Environment Picture

DEQ proposed toxic air chemicals deregulation fails to put public health first

James Clift
For more than a year, Michigan Environmental Council has been sounding the alarm about the state’s plan to deregulate emissions of some 500 toxic chemicals into Michigan’s air. We strongly oppose the Department of Environmental Quality’s proposed rule change, which would raise the risk of serious health impacts among Michigan families, particularly in vulnerable communities.

What the rule change would do

The draft policy would deregulate about 250 chemicals that have not been tested for their health impacts. Michigan’s current regulations protect public health by assuming any chemical whose effects are unknown is very toxic, and only allows them to be emitted in relatively small amounts. Without testing, state regulators can’t say with any certainty that these chemicals don’t cause cancer. In effect, the rule change would let polluters treat Michigan residents like guinea pigs.

Also concerning is the proposed deregulation of roughly 250 chemicals that are known to be toxic, despite not being linked to cancer. A chemical’s human health impact is a function of both its toxicity and the quantity emitted. The proposal eliminates quantity from that equation. It arbitrarily draws a line allowing unregulated emission of what are currently considered the “least toxic” 25 percent of chemicals that have been studied.

Below are a few of the key points MEC Policy Director James Clift made when he testified on December 7 at a public meeting on the proposed rule change. MEC and eight of our member groups and partner organizations submitted these and other concerns in our public comments on December 18, along with over 2,000 signatures gathered in an online petition. We expect the DEQ to announce their final decision regarding the rule change in early 2016.

Key concerns regarding air toxics rule changes
The rule changes fail to protect the health of Michigan families. Under the proposal, industrial facilities will be allowed to emit chemicals that have not been tested for their impact on human health or natural resources. This makes Michigan families the equivalent of guinea pigs. The company using the chemical (and reaping the financial benefits of its use) should bear the burden of demonstrating it is safe before emitting it into the air we breathe. Instead, this proposal transfers to those living next to the factory the risk that the chemical can cause cancer or have other negative consequences.

The rule changes ignore the science of toxic chemical exposure. The proposal to deregulate chemicals for which no health or safety data exists goes against our knowledge of toxic chemicals. The current program, at least, creates a presumption that an untested chemical is fairly toxic. The other chemicals being deregulated are those that have been found not to cause cancer and are less toxic than other chemicals, but which can still have impacts on public health. These chemicals have a wide variety of impacts, including respiratory impacts and links to liver or kidney diseases. The potential impact on human health is driven by both the toxicity of the chemical and the quantity of the chemical being emitted. The second category ignores this question of quantity and deregulates a chemical based solely on its toxicity. This change is also contrary to the science behind protecting people from the impacts of toxic chemicals.

The rule changes will have a disproportionate impact on low-income areas and communities of color. Numerous studies have shown that residential neighborhoods next to industrial areas tend to have below-average income and have a greater likelihood to be communities of color. By deregulating more than 500 chemicals, the proposal will have the greatest impact in those communities with the highest concentration of industrial facilities and toxic air emissions. Further deregulating individual toxic chemicals will place these communities at even greater risk.

You can read more about the rule change in the Detroit News opinion piece MEC President Chris Kolb authored with Guy Williams of Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice, published Dec. 4. As we noted in the News: “The state’s proposed deregulation of some 500 chemicals would pack a potent punch in Detroit, where many people live in the shadow of heavy industry, and where asthma puts residents in the hospital three to six times as often as in the rest of Michigan.”

However, the DEQ’s plan for gathering input on the proposed deregulation did not include any public meetings in Southeast Michigan—the state’s most populous region, and one with serious air quality concerns.

For more information
"Deregulating toxic air chemicals a major shift"
Guy Williams and Chris Kolb
Detroit News, detroitnews.com, Dec. 4, 2015

"Will Deregulating Michigan's Toxic Air Emissions Put Residents at Risk? Background on the Proposed Administrative Rule Change"
Michigan Environmental Council, environmentalcouncil.org, October 2014
-Andy McGlashen, MEC
RELATED TOPICS: chemical policy, public health
© Copyright Michigan Environmental Council, All rights reserved