To: Detroit Workers' Voice mailing list
October 7, 2015
RE: Detroit demo of October 3rd
On October 3 I attended a demonstration in Detroit against the expansion of a waste processing plant there. The plant belongs to a company called U.S. Ecology on the near east side of Detroit near Hamtramck. This company has applied to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) for a permit to expand its processing of waste by ten times. This includes processing frack waste from other states. The company plans to solidify this waste somehow and then send the solid waste material to Idaho. The liquid leftovers will then be dumped into the Detroit water and sewage system. This watery material will include chemicals left over from frack waste called "flowback" that includes chemical contaminants used in fracking as well as radioactive minerals dislodged by the fracking process.
Detroiters are angry about the company's plan to use the Detroit water system to get rid of frack waste. This practice has been banned in Pennsylvania, where the fracking companies have millions of gallons of frack waste to dispose of. The Oct. 3 protest was called to stimulate public comments to MDEQ to deny U.S. Ecology's request for a permit.
Some 40 or more people gathered outside the plant on a windy, wet and cold Saturday morning to protest the company's plans. Slogans were shouted loudly and vigorously: "Hey hey, ho ho, frack waste has got to go" was one of the most popular, as well as "What do we want? Deny the permit! When do we want it? Now!" (Some people shouted "Yesterday!") Picketers carried signs with slogans like "Ban Frack Waste" and "Keep Radioactivity Out of Detroit". A couple groups also had large banners. Participants included people from around metro Detroit and even farther.
After marching and shouting for awhile, protesters listened to short speeches from the demonstration's organizers, endorsers and supporters. LuAnne of the Committee to Ban Fracking talked about the petition campaign to ban fracking and about how to pressure MDEQ to deny the company's permit. A speaker from Metro Detroiters for Bernie talked about being shocked to see the level of destruction in that neighborhood and how important it was to oppose further devastation and environmental racism. Fred of Detroit Workers' Voice talked about how the politicians and big organizations weren't there, but despite the demonstrators' small numbers they would make a big difference, just as it was rank-and-file auto workers who got together to defeat the contract agreement that the UAW and Fiat/Chrysler tried to impose on them. Elena from the Detroit School Board talked about the connection between environmental racism and the destruction of education in Detroit, as the state has imposed a financial manager on the Detroit school system who is denying equal education to inner-city children. She said the school board has gone on record opposing U.S. Ecology's plan to expand, but the state's financial manager doesn't care. She noted that, while Republican legislators have been leading the destruction of Detroit public schools, Democratic Party politicians have also done nothing to oppose it.
A number of people spoke about the technical side of things. One speaker explained that, while alpha-ray radiation might seem very weak, as it can be blocked with a sheet of paper, it could wreak havoc inside a human body if [materials radiating it were] ingested, and it's very hard to detect when transported because container walls block it. Also, the level of radioactivity in hazardous waste may be reduced to legal levels of intensity without reducing its harmfulness by mixing it with non-radioactive waste. So alpha-ray radiation in frack waste could turn out to be very dangerous even while passing tests for its presence.
A couple people from local block clubs spoke about their efforts to protect parks and the local environment. They noted that in talks with neighbors they found a good response, and most people are very concerned about the company's expansion plans.
A number of people I spoke with talked about the water crisis in Flint, where the state financial manager said he would save money by getting water directly from the Flint River. The result: children in Flint now show high levels of lead in blood tests, and the state must now overspend to try and recover from this catastrophe. An interesting lesson from this disaster is the way bureaucrats involved tried to cover up and lie about it. In months past water tests and tests for lead in children were performed by technicians from Virginia Tech and from the Hurley Children's Hospital in Flint. When asked about it, Brad Wurfel, spokesman for MDEQ, blew off the test results as hysteria-mongering and tried to assure the public there was nothing to worry about. Finally, two weeks ago, the Genesee County Health Dept. issued its own report and declared a state of emergency in Flint. At that point the state finally admitted the truth and said it would rush clean water and filters to Flint. But the children there still show high levels of lead in their blood, with results that may take decades to manifest. Some local media are demanding that MDEQ, supposedly the regulator of water quality, should itself by regulated by the federal EPA.
It was great to see Detroiters active on these issues, exchanging information and ideas and acting without endorsement of the big national environmental organizations or politicians. The demonstration got some advance publicity in Detroit newspapers, but no big organizations went all out to mobilize for it, and it was left to a handful of concerned activists to do so in a short two-week period. One state rep sent her best wishes, but aside from her no one in the political establishment dared oppose the company's plans. But pressure from below is building, and MDEQ has now been forced to extend its period of public comment before issuing its ruling. Most importantly, activists have begun making connections and building organization. <>
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Posted on October 7, 2015