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E-M:/ Bay City Times on Recent Pollution Episode

Bay City Times article on Michigan's recent PM 2.5 air pollution episode:


So far, no Detroit newspapers covered the fact that the Dearborn area
had about 6-7 days of unhealthy PM 2.5 air pollution and that
other parts of the area all the way to Port Huron and Flint had at least
2-3 bad days as well -- pollution that numerous health studies show is
capability of inducing mortality, hospital admissions, etc. in a portion of the

So, despite Michigan DEQ's web sites and Enviro-flash emails, no broadscale general
public awareness of this problem occurred.  This, of course, is parr for the course since
MDEQ never issues any news releases to warn the public that the air either
is, or about to be, unhealthy for PM 2.5.    "Heckuva job" there, MDEQ PR department and

Compare the MDEQ's "no press releases on PM 2.5 pollution episodes" policy with this
from New York DEC and Health Department on the recent episode there:


NYDEC meteorologists also issued an "air stagnation advisory" that
flashed into National Weather Service wire reports.   While Michigan
MDEQ meteorologist do this for "ozone action days," they don't do
anything similar for PM 2.5 episodes.

Or this....from Wisconsin:


I think the real reason that MDEQ has never issued news releases
about imminent or current bad air conditions is that the
entire issue of community air pollution
is seen from an economic development/deregulation
approach rather than from a public health protection focus.

The top priority of managers in Air Quality Division is to
get areas of the state out of nonattainment status under the
Clean Air Act.   This is job one and the reason, from their
point of view that it is job one, is that it makes it easier for
new source of pollution to be established in such areas of the
state.  The primary mission of air quality regulation is
economic development and not public health protection.

The primary motivation for seeking attainment status
is thus economic development and not public health protection.
Broad public admissions by MDEQ that the air is dirty and a hazard to life and
health for individuals with compromised health is therefore
a public admission of failure to promote the economic development imperative
through getting attainment status by any means necessary.....even
if such attainment status is not justified/illegal because maintenance of
that attainment status might not be assured and that all requirements
of the Clean Air Act plans will not be met. 

When economic development, and not public health protection,
is the primary motivator, it isn't therefore important to promptly
inform the public they are breathing bad air through issuing a news
release.   The excuse given is that people who are concerned can
find it all on the internet or get emails about pending conditions.
However, that approach only reaches insiders
and a small set of individuals and  is not a broad scale announcement that
will emphasize the importance of the risk communication message
and the numbers of people reached by such a message.....witness
the fact that no Detroit media wrote about the recent, very bad
pollution episode in Southeastern Michigan.   If MDEQ doesn't
treat it like news, it won't be news.

Even the "Ozone Action Day" stuff from MDEQ, SEMCOG and the
regional planning people in West Michigan has a corrupted message from
a public health and risk communication standpoint.   The overwhelming emphasis is not
on communicating to the public that their health may be in jeopardy.  Instead,
the emphasis is on telling the public what they can do to cut emissions
in order to avoid having more severe regulation.   While it is good to
let the public know what they can do to cut air pollution, the primary message
must nevertheless should be to tell the public how to protect their health.....at least
that should be the case if the primary motivator of the entire activity is
health protection....but it is not.

When the primary motivator is not public health protection, you get
perverse results....such as MDEQ issuing news releases saying the
air is clean for ozone on the same day that the air is dirty for PM 2.5
when the public will not know the difference and will not hear about
the dirty air day.   Or this from
Muskegon.....   ....it is somehow a "slight" for Muskegon and Holland not to be
designated for ozone attainment....even if doing so would be illegal.....with
force of a congressman put behind such a perverse approach to
conformance to the Clean Air Act.


Similarly, for many years, if you were outside of the Muskegon-Holland-Grand Rapids
area of West Michigan, there was no warning/ozone action day/ nothing at all to warn
people about air pollution, say, in Berrien or Benzie County.

Yes, it is true that most of our ozone problem in West Michigan comes from
out of state.   But yes, it is also true, that the nonattainment provisions are intended
to make downwind local areas stakeholders in holding upwind pollution contributing
areas responsible for solving cleanup problems.   But instead of vigorously advocating
against nitrogen oxide control waivers in Illinois, we have the past spectacle of Senator Levin
Congressman Hoekstra and Fred Upton crying in their beer about long range transport
and trying to amend the Clean Air Act to take the pressure off of Illinois, while Michigan
DEQ promotes EPA granting nitrogen oxide control waivers in certain counties here in Michigan.

The same MDEQ Air Quality Division and SEMCOG approach to
doing only the minimum possible in SIP cleanup planning has thus led to such
air pollution perversity as continuing to allow uncontrolled gasoline emissions
from filling vehicle gas tanks....this is a reasonably available control on air pollution
that is in effect in most urban areas with pollution problems....but not in
SE Michigan and West Michigan.   I guess it was too important for both Engler
and Granholm and their relationship with the service station dealer's association and
the oil companies to avoid a political problem with holding
service station operators responsible for this gross and fairly massive pollutant
emission problem.

After all, we're talking about air contaminants and not vitamins.  [note, this
latter line is stolen from Mort Sterling, former Wayne County air regulator
who later became environmental manager for Detroit Edison]

It isn't like our national health protection standards are too stringent.   In fact,
they are not too strict and, in fact, the current standards ....even the one
recently issued for particulate matter, don't comply with the standard for
decisionmaking spelled out in the Clean Air Act for public health protection.  In fact, the recent standard
issued for particulate matter completely relaxed requirements for annual
exposures to PM 10.....if that isn't deregulation, I don't know what that term

And it isn't like our air quality planners haven't been wrong in the past about
their promises of attaining standards.   MDEQ/SEMCOG air planners were wrong about
maintenance of the old 1 hour standard in Southeastern Michigan, and before that
they had a 20 year history of being wrong about almost every attainment prediction
they ever made about ozone.

Now we're finally just beginning to recognize that the PM 2.5 problem in Michigan
will probably be much tougher to solve than the ozone problem has been and will
also be a greater threat to public health than the ozone problem.   Now is not the time
to continue MDEQ's "only happy news" approach  by failing to communicate with the public about 
risk from PM 2.5 air pollution that can kill.   The public deserves to know
when they are at risk from PM 2.5 air pollution and MDEQ must use all communication
tools at their disposal to do so.....if they are to make public health protection their
number one priority.

Alex J. Sagady & Associates        http://www.sagady.com

Environmental Enforcement, Permit/Technical Review, Public Policy,
Expert Witness Review and Litigation Investigation on Air, Water and
Waste/Community Environmental and Resource Protection
Prospectus at:  http://www.sagady.com/sagady.pdf

657 Spartan Ave,  East Lansing, MI  48823 
(517) 332-6971; (517) 332-8987 (fax); ajs@sagady.com