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Citizen's Guide to Detroit AOC

>Citizens Environment Alliance of Southwestern Ontario &
>Downriver Citizens for a Safe Environment>

>Citizen's Guide
>to the >International Joint Commission>
>Detroit River AOC
>Status Assessment

>JUNE 24, 1997
>In October 1995, the Citizens Environment Alliance of Southwestern Ontario
>submitted a complaint to the North American Commission for Environmental
>Cooperation (NACEC), thus becoming the first Canadian environmental
>organization to complain about transboundary pollution along the Canada/US
>border.  Because  NACEC  determined it was more appropriate for the
>International Joint Commission (IJC) to address this  complaint, the Detroit
>River was selected as the first Area Of Concern to undergo a Status
>Assessment by the IJC.  
>According to the IJC, it was their intention to focus this status assessment
>on examining technological and institutional issues which influence the
>restoration of beneficial uses of AOCs in the Great Lakes basin.   The
>Detroit River Status Assessment process began in November 1996 and  has
>involved  several IJC Commissioners, Regional Office staff and its Science
>Advisory Board hosting several meetings and interviews with non-governmental
>organizations, (and governmental organizations)  regarding their opinions on
>the current status of the Detroit River RAP. The fact that this Status
>Assessment is a "draft" and is being widely distributed for comments prior to
>completion is very concerning.  It implies the positions taken by the IJC are
>subject to modification.  This calls into question whether any impact will be
>made by this Status Assessment, particularly if it will be further weakened
>once the governments respond to it.  Only time will tell whether the IJC
> Status Assessment will be successful in implementing action or if  this
> effort will be a further insult to the work, energy and commitment of so
> many members of the public who gave so much for so little since 1987.  
>The clear need to highlight the strong points of the draft Status Assessment
>as well as further clarify or elaborate on  misrepresentations is what has
>prompted the Citizens Environment Alliance (CEA) and Downriver Citizens for a
>Safe Environment (DCSE) to produce a Citizen's Guide to the Detroit River
>Status Assessment.  
>This Citizen's Guide to the Detroit River Area of Concern Status Assessment
>has been prepared to assist interested citizens in understanding the IJC's
>report. The Guide is intended to do the following:
> highlight the results of the assessment that are on target
> translate bureaucratic statements into understandable terms
> extend statements in the assessment that do not go far enough
> question statements that are one-sided or not factual.
>The Citizens Environment Alliance has taken this approach because much of the
>IJC's Status Assessment report is accurate and should not be further weakened
>once the governments respond to it.
>According to Annex 2 of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement (GLWQA),
>Remedial Action Plans (RAPs) for each of the 42 Areas of Concern (AOCs) are
>to be submitted to the IJC for review and comment at three stages:
>     1) Stage 1, when a definition of the problem has been completed;  
>     2) Stage 2, when remedial and regulatory measures are selected; and,
>     3) Stage 3, when monitoring indicates that identified beneficial uses
>		have been restored.
>The IJC has completed their review of most of the Stage 1 RAPs, including the
>Detroit River, and most RAPs are now in Stage 2, some of which have also been
>reviewed by the IJC. The reviews involved selection of peer reviewers,
>summarization of review comments, a RAP review meeting in the AOC, and a
>final report to governments by the IJC. This process was sometimes
>confrontational, especially if the majority of the RAP reviewers felt that
>the document being reviewed did not meet the requirements of the GLWQA.
>Citizens should recognize that the GLWQA clearly states a Stage 2 RAP
>document must include:
>an evaluation of the remedial measures in place
>an evaluation of additional measures to restore the beneficial uses       
>a selection of additional measures to restore the beneficial uses along with
>an implementation schedule
>identification of the persons or agencies responsible for implementation
>The 1996 Detroit River Remedial Action Plan Report that was submitted to the
>IJC is not a Stage 2 RAP. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality
>(MDEQ), which is the lead agency for the Detroit River RAP, decided
>unilaterally that instead of preparing a Stage 2 report, it would issue a
>bienniel progress report on RAPs, furthering  MDEQ's strategy to weaken the
>RAP process. The 1996 document is the first such biennial report for the
>Detroit River AOC and only makes recommendations to minimize accountability.
>Since the 1996 report is not a Stage 2 RAP, the IJC is not required to review
>and comment on it. However, the IJC chose to conduct their status assessment
>on the Detroit River AOC in order to see if any progress was being made in a
>number of categories that are critical to the completion of a successful RAP.
>The status assessment process is much less confrontational since it involves
>interviews of the various stakeholders within the AOC and does not include
>peer reviewers.
>Through the status assessment process, the IJC has recognized some of the
>serious problems that have hindered the RAP process and, as a consequence,
>have resulted in failure to move the Detroit River AOC closer to remediation
>of the impaired beneficial uses in a timely, coordinated manner.  Among the
>problems clearly identified are:
>The leadership void among the agencies responsible for ensuring that the RAP
>is implemented is obvious.  The fact that 10 years  have been allowed for
>planning with very little action to remediate the serious environmental
>problems makes this void all too clear.
>Public awareness and understanding of the RAP goals has been totally lacking
>on the U.S. side, particularly among the most environmentally impacted
>communities in the AOC.
>There has been a failure to involve elected officials in the RAP process,
>thus minimizing any accountability to their constituents.
>The agencies are more interested in controlling the public consultation
>process then securing the funding and political support for necessary
>remedial actions.
>The 104 recommended remedial activities have not been prioritized and it is
>unclear what level of restoration of beneficial uses would occur if any or
>all of them were to be implemented.
>A comprehensive monitoring network is no longer in existence in the Detroit
>River AOC. Without this network, Stages 2 and 3 of the RAP will be impossible
>to complete.
>The authors of the Status Assessment have taken at face value too much of the
>information provided to them. In the six months since the process began, the
>validity of statements made in reports and interviews could have been
>checked. Since this was not done, the draft Status Assessment has the
>following shortcomings:
>The Status Assessment does not address two key issues in the Detroit River
>AOC: environmental justice and public health.
>The "Technical" section merely repeats the status of beneficial use
>impairments from the 1996 Detroit River RAP Report. It does not provide a
>critical, independent assessment of the statements made concerning status or
>the difficulty of restoring the beneficial uses.
>The "Public Consultation" section fails to make the distinction between
>outreach activities and actual public participation by informed members of
>the public in RAP decisions. While the Status Assessment correctly notes the
>inadequate nature of outreach programs, it does not recognize the secondary
>role that the public members of BPAC were given.
>The Status Assessment incorrectly implies that the Monguagon Creek cleanup
>and the Auto Project pollution prevention effort were part of the RAP
>activities to restore beneficial uses. These were the result of ongoing
>programs and would have occurred even if there had been no RAP. Also, no
>attempt was made to evaluate the effect of these actions on beneficial use
>The following excerpts from the draft Status Assessment Report have been
>highlighted to further explain the issues involved:
>"Possible beneficial impacts of the Detroit Water and Sewage Department's PCB
>and mercury minimization program cannot be quantified at this time." page 5.
>This statement indicates the weak technical basis of the Status
>Assessment. The only definitive estimates of point source contributions of
>PCBs (prior to the 1992-1993 estimates from the 1996 RAP document) were made
>in the 1986 Upper Great Lakes Connecting Channels Study (UGLCCS). Comparison
>with these loads show that current Detroit WWTP loadings have increased not
>decreased as has already been reported by CEA in a previous press release.
>PCB loads increased by an average of 254%, while mercury loads increased by
>an average of 673% compared with 1986 estimates.
>" .... Detroit has expended nearly one billion dollars toward restoration of
>the Detroit River since 1971."  page 11.
>The Detroit Sewage Treatment Plant is the largest discharger in the Great
>Lakes Basin, processing between 700 million and 1 billion gallons of
>municipal and industrial waste every day. It should come as no surprise that
>improvements and upkeep for this vast system will be tremendously expensive.
>Also, Lake Erie has received much of the benefits of the improvements. In the
>1970s, the major expenditure was for phosphorus removal which was targeted to
>restore Lake Erie, not the Detroit River. Further, Detroit initially opposed
>these improvements, and finally made them under court order. Detroit
>continues to be under litigation for Detroit River remedial actions: the U.S.
>EPA has sued them over the inadequacy of their industrial pretreatment
>program and they have a contested case with Michigan DEQ over their most
>recent NPDES permit. Detroit has also resisted a regional approach to
>wastewater and stormwater management problems in which treatment facilities
>are located optimally to deal with
>problems on a regional (i.e., county, watershed, etc.) level.  
>"The Commission's SAB has also pointed out the impact of funding cuts on
>research that is necessary to support decision making related to
>implementation." page 11.
>In 1992, the Detroit River RAP Team formed four Technical Work Groups (TWG)
>to define remedial options. Membership on the TWGs included subject matter
>experts from government agencies, the private sector and local universities.
>Several recommendations from TWGs that would lead to effective identification
>of remedial options were ignored by the RAP team, prompting many local
>researchers to resign. Without this expertise, implementation of remedial
>actions to restore beneficial uses becomes a haphazard and ineffective
>"... the Michigan DEQ RAP contact also serves as the RAP contact for the
>Clinton River, River Raisin, Saginaw River/Bay and the St. Clair River."
> page 13.
>There is clearly a reduction of effort in the Detroit AOC by the Michigan
>DEQ. However, for an admittedly difficult, binational RAP that is supposedly
>in the implementation phase, there should be more effort not less. Further,
>staff assigned to the Detroit RAP should believe in the RAP process and not
>be a hindrance to it. They should be willing to work on a consensus basis so
>that the resulting RAP will be a cooperative effort and support the public's
>agenda. Based on eight years of experience with Michigan, few such staff
>exist within its agencies. It is therefore the role of the U.S. EPA to step
>in and fill this gap so that the RAP effort may proceed.
>"Budget cutbacks in OMEE have resulted in several staffing changes for the
>RAP coordinator position for the Detroit River AOC within the last few
>years."  page 13.
>Translation: Ontario has cut back its effort the same way Michigan has. One
>casualty of the cuts was the effort by Ontario to predict levels of toxic
>chemicals in the Detroit River and the resulting effects on fish and other
>aquatic life. Staff at OMEE were using mathematical models of the river
>ecosystem to track the release of contaminants from sources and their fate in
>the food chain. Since many of the impaired beneficial uses relate to these
>effects, remedial efforts will be made in a vacuum without this work. Other
>AOCs that Ontario has the lead for, such as the St. Clair River, have
>retained similar modeling projects but OMEE has failed to continue supporting
>this work in the Detroit River.
>"... the Commission's Status Assessment confirmed that neither Detroit nor
>Windsor is willing to absorb more than a small fraction of the expected costs
>of suggested remedial activities." page 14.
>It is obvious that these and other municipalities in the Detroit River AOC
>will not be able to pay for remedial activities other than those required by
>law (i.e., infrastructure and treatment works improvements). Competing
>priorities in difficult economic times for these cities make it impossible.
>The expectation of serious municipal-level funding is just a ploy by Michigan
>and Ontario to shift the responsibility for clean-up. However, what is
>important for these municipalities is for them to see the benefits of
>remediation and be willing to endorse clean-up plans when they are finally
>prepared. So far, there has been very little municipal buy-in.   
>"The 1996 Detroit River RAP Report lists 104 recommendations, but makes no
>ranking of necessary remedial actions." page 14.
>This is a direct consequence of Michigan DEQ's failure to recognize the
>GLWQA. Annex 2 of the GLWQA is explicit about evaluation of remedial measures
>(paragraphs 4 (a) (iii), (iv), and (v)): Each RAP shall include an evaluation
>of remedial measures in place; an evaluation of alternative additional
> measures to restore beneficial uses; and, a selection of additional remedial
>measures to restore beneficial uses and a schedule for their implementation.
>In fact, the Michigan DEQ's work plan for Stage 2 ignored these requirements.
>"A consequence has been the inclination to pursue actions that are popular
>with outside funding sources yet do not serve to solve existing sources of
>persistent toxic substances." page 15.
>Translation: There is money available but it is spent in ways inconsistent
>with the goals of the RAP. Prime examples are the BASF Waterfront Park and
>Wyandotte Shores Golf Course which were built in 1995 on a former industrial
>site on the Trenton Channel by BASF. Although BASF is a  member of BPAC, the
>decision to fund and implement this action was not even discussed at BPAC or
>Habitat Technical Work Group meetings.
>" .... elected officials do not appear to have been apprised of RAP
>developments on a regular basis."  page 16.
>The membership "sectors" of the Binational Public Advisory Council included
>elected officials and government representatives, yet very few elected
>officials were members of BPAC or attended meetings. As a consequence,
>government accountability was manipulated into positions that were filled by
>high ranking employees of the City of Detroit and City of Windsor,
>responsible for the wastewater treatment facilities discharging into the
>Detroit River.  Rather than working to achieve RAP goals of pollution
>prevention to reduce toxic substances discharged to the river,  these city
>employees used their position to further protect the Cities' interests to
>discharge wastes.  Real elected City officials, including Mayor Archer and
>Mayor Hurst, are all too willing to hide behind the rhetoric that "efforts to
>improve the environment" are taking place without taking the time or interest
>to ensure that it is.  Scientific research on sediments collected throughout
>the Detroit River continue to show high concentrations of metals and organic
>substances that contaminate fish and wildlife and degrade the water quality.
> Yet, elected officials continue to be insulated from any accountability to
>the RAP.
>"The relationship between the RAP effort for the Detroit River and other
>endeavors such as the Southeast Michigan Initiative (SEMI) is unclear." page
> The Southeast Michigan Initiative (SEMI) was originally intended to be a
>joint U.S. EPA - MDNR (later MDEQ ) geographic initiative that would focus on
>the problems that have both historically caused and continue to cause
>environmental degradation in this area.  As envisioned by U.S. EPA, SEMI
>would bring a much needed federal presence to achieve environmental
>improvement in southeast Michigan, where more than 4 million people work and
>live. SEMI was envisioned to help implement RAPs. But, this was not to be so.
> MDEQ adamantly opposed having enforcement and compliance of environmental
>regulations as part of this initiative and, after 4 years of negotiations
>toward  protecting the business interest rather than seeking environmental
>improvement, SEMI has turned into an ineffective public relations forum that
>is designed to "exchange information  ...... to help any interested
>stakeholder use resources more efficiently .....  and not an entity that
>develops its own action plan." *
>*SEMI Forum Mission Statement, 1996.
>"RAPs being developed ... in the SEMI region will be a priority activity
>....A hot spot sediment remediation strategy will be developed and
>implemented."  page 17.
>The fact that there are five different Areas of Concern in southeast Michigan
>alone should be enough reason for a serious federal presence to coordinate
>sediment remediation projects. If SEMI were functioning as originally
>intended by U.S. EPA, the sediment remediation goals of the Detroit River RAP
>could have been adopted by SEMI and coordinated with the other four AOCs'
>sediment remediation goals and objectives. In this manner, SEMI would have
>been acting as a tool to assist with the sediment remediation efforts of the
>Detroit River, NOT competing against the RAP efforts. Given the current
>structure of SEMI, however, there is absolutely no capability to either
>develop,  coordinate or implement a sediment remediation strategy for  one of
>the AOCs, let alone all five.   The statements made about SEMI in the Status
>Assessment expose how poorly understood the role of SEMI  in coordinating the
>RAP activities is and how weak the federal government has become in the SEMI
>"A fundamental problem, regarding proper functioning  of the RAP effort has
>been the lack of corporate 'membership' in the RAP process."  page 17. 
>This statement is correct and the underlying reason for such a failure
>resides with the lead agency for the Detroit River RAP, the Michigan
>Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ).  Maintaining the status quo is
>sanctioned by MDEQ and, therefore, there is no obligation for corporations
>whether or not they are significant polluters to 'step up and be counted' in
>the Detroit River RAP process. The companies that were represented on the
>Binational Public Advisory Council (BPAC) participated to ensure proper
>damage control.  As a result, there are no specific objectives in the RAP to
>reduce the toxic substances being discharged to the Detroit River;
>maintenance of the status quo for both Michigan and Ontario prevails.
> Corporations are members of the greater Detroit River area community and
>there is a moral responsibility for both Detroit-based  and Windsor-based
>corporations to contribute toward environmental improvement.  All of them
>have benefited from the people and the resources here, and it is time to pay
>back.  There are several large corporate foundations that exist to support
>community needs and activities, yet none have been involved in RAP initiated
>projects on the Detroit River.  Now that the shift in "leadership"  of the
>Detroit River RAP is to the local level, the ability to leverage corporate
>support seems even less likely to occur.
>"Since .... contaminated sediment problem areas occur within the U.S. side of
>the Detroit River and the contaminated areas appear to lack any viable
>potentially responsible parties, it is probable that without strong financial
>commitment from the U.S. government,  little or no remediation of
>contaminated sediment will occur within a reasonable time-frame." page 19.
>What is meant by not finding any "viable potentially responsible party" is
>that the public will be expected to foot the bill in sediment remediation of
>the Detroit River.  This responsibility is enormously unfair, given the
>number of "viable" industries that knowingly discharge pollutants to the
>Detroit River that cause sediment contamination. As pointed out earlier (see
>section on SEMI), if the Southeast Michigan Initiative were functioning as
>originally envisioned by U.S. EPA, the sediment remediation goals of the
>Detroit River RAP could have been coordinated with the other four southeast
>Michigans AOC sediment projects in a joint federal-state effort to ensure a
>U.S. government commitment to funding and cleanup.  Using the empowerment
>zone within Detroit as an analogy to stimulate funding is a poor suggestion.
> A more relevant example would be the Rouge River basin's Wet Weather
>Demonstration Project and the federal dollars used to coordinate the many
>CSO-impacted communities within. 
>"No evidence of specific outreach programs directed to the most impacted
>subset of the population was discovered during the Commission's Status
>Assessment."  page 21.
>As the Status Assessment clearly points out, Annex 2 of the Great Lakes Water
>Quality Agreement states the governments ".......shall ensure that the public
>is consulted in all actions undertaken pursuant to the Annex." What is meant
>by public consultation is also "outreach programs" directed to the public so
>they are familiar enough to understand the environmental problems and their
>causes to make informed comments on the actions that will be taken to fully
>correct them.  The Status Assessment correctly states that the public
>consultation process, particularly for the Detroit residents most impacted by
>the environmental degradation, was completely inadequate.  What the Status
>Assessment fails to mention, however, was the issue of public participation
>in the Remedial Action Plan (RAP) process.  What is meant by public
>participation is that members of the public, representing the public's
>interest to fully remediate the environmental problems, have equal status
>with industrial, municipal and governmental representatives in contributing
>to the development and final production of the RAP.  The level of meaningful
>public participation in the Detroit River RAP process has been  as inadequate
>as the public outreach programs.  Issues raised  by citizen members of the
>Binational Public Advisory Council were typically disregarded  or
>trivialized.  Written contributions from citizens were "lost" or edited out.
> The public has no ownership of the Detroit River RAP because they have been
>disenfranchised from the process.  The only way to correct this is to create
>a cooperative, consensus driven group that is totally responsive to the
>public's agenda for environmental action. 
>According to Dr. Bunyan Bryant, Professor at University of Michigan School of
>Natural Resources, Environmental Justice is defined as the fair treatment of
>people of all races, cultures, incomes, and educational levels with the
>respect of the development, implementation and enforcement of environmental
>laws and policies.  Fair treatment implies that no population of people
>should be forced to shoulder a disproportionate share of the negative
>environmental impacts of pollution or hazards due to lack of political or
>economic strength.  For Detroit, the "impacted subset of the population" is
>the African-American community that comprises 75% of the population.  The
>environmental impacts are clearly public health issues, yet these issues have
>not been considered in the 1996 Detroit River RAP report or in the Status
>Assessment. Beneficial use impairments such as restrictions on fish and
>wildlife consumption and tainting of fish and wildlife flavour are directly
>relevant to human health*. Fish tumours and other deformities and degradation
>of benthos are early warning indicators of potential human health problems*.
>Yet the aquatic food chain still continues to be contaminated by permitted
>discharges of persistent toxic substances. Toxic hot spots in the Trenton
>Channel and other areas remain in place while bureaucrats decide who is
>responsible for clean-up. It is well known among local researchers that
>plentiful samples of fish with tumours and other deformed animals and insects
>can readily be found in the Trenton Channel. One study at the University of
>Windsor estimated
>that 33% of brown bullheads in the Trenton Channel have cancer. Raw sewage
>discharges to Fox Creek, which runs through an economically disadvantaged
>Detroit neighborhood, cause this water body not to meet the General
>Objectives of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement signed 25 years ago.
>The failure to incorporate public health concerns in the Detroit River RAP
>has kept the public from understanding the real implications of Michigan's
>policy of neglect for this AOC.
>* - Report on Incorporating Human Health Considerations into
>RAPs, by Myers, Manno, Schmeltz and Cabala. 
>"The intended role of SEMCOG was to assist in the smooth functioning of
>BPAC."  page 22.
>The Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG) is a
>quasi-governmental organization that has, for over 8 years, received $68,000
>to $100,000 per year from MDNR-DEQ to " ...... assist MDNR and OMEE in
>completing the RAP in accordance with the guidelines of Annex 2 of the GLWQA,
>...... involve representatives of the general public in key decisions related
>to the development of the RAP ........ gain support of the general public for
>the RAP and its implementation......"  (quoted from the 1995-'96 signed
>contract between SEMCOG and MDNR).  Clearly, the role of SEMCOG as a
>contractee extended far beyond "smooth functioning of BPAC".  As noted in the
>Status Assessment, both public participation and outreach for the Detroit
>River RAP has been less than adequate, yet the Assessment could give no
>reason for this failure.  The failure can be squarely placed on  SEMCOG who
>has received adequate money to do the job; who has access to all of the
>communities in the Detroit River AOC; and, who has the tools to achieve broad
>public consultation and awareness of the Detroit River RAP. However, the
>money SEMCOG received was primarily used for meeting space and minutes
>preparation and mailing.
>The "findings" listed in the Status Assessment on pages 23-26 are generally
>valid, but would be further strengthened by the addition of the following
>The U.S. EPA should assume the responsibility as the lead agency for the
>Detroit River RAP.
>Environment Canada and OMEE should get serious about their commitment to the
>binational plan to restore beneficial uses in the Detroit River. While it is
>recognized that 90% of the problems originate from the Michigan side of the
>river, Canadian officials should insist that all remediation efforts have
>clearly identified implementation schedules and responsible parties.
>Citizens should be brought back to the table and given an equal voice in
>consensus-based decisions about the restoration of the Detroit River AOC.
>It is the intent of the Citizens Environment Alliance and Downriver Citizens
>for a Safe Environment to further monitor the progress in this AOC and report
>our findings to the public on an annual basis. 

Contact: Rick Coronado, CEA 519-973-1116, Mary Ginnebaugh, DRCSE 313-676-1233,
         Pegg Roberts, Creekside 313-822-6118