Near Unanimous Opposition to Proposed Coal Burning Power Plant in Holland at DEQ Public Hearing


Last night the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) opened a two-day public hearing on the proposed coal burning power plant for Holland, Michigan. The plant would cost an estimated $240 million without including the sequestering of carbon produced by the plant.

Before the public was invited to speak, a representative from the DEQ said that they are not interested in how many are for and against the proposed power plant, rather they want to make their decision based on whether or not the power plant would meet “air quality standards.”

Limited Support for the Plant

About 100 people attended the public hearing, but only thirty people offered public comments. Of those thirty, only three were in favor of the proposed power plant.

The Mayor of Holland expressed support and stated that the “coal that will be used for the Holland plant is from states out West,” since he wanted to avoid any association with the negative publicity around coal ash pollution generally associated with coal mining in eastern states. The only other supporters were a volunteer for the Holland Board of Public Works and a resident of Holland.

Extensive Opposition to the Plant: Concerns over Pollution Common

A steady stream of Holland residents stepped up to the microphone to express their opposition to the proposed power plant. Many of them expressed concern over pollution, particularly air pollution that will contribute to increased asthma. One woman, who says she suffers from asthma, was convinced that her asthma is a direct result of the existing coal burning power plant based in Holland. A senior citizen who can see the smokestacks from the current power plant says that he and the other senior citizens “are at risk of contracting respiratory problems” because of their proximity to the coal burning plant. Other Holland residents said that renewable energy should be promoted and produced and that the City of Holland should advocate for a reduction of energy consumption by the residents and businesses of the community.

People from other areas of Ottawa County also expressed opposition to the proposed power plant, as well as people who came from Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids. A woman with the Dominican Sisters in Grand Rapids was concerned about the carbon emissions and their contribution to global warming. She felt that “there needed to be a radical change to how we produce energy” and that the proposed plant will only contribute to the growing problem. Another woman expressed her opposition to the power plant, said she spoke “as a mother who has breast fed her children”, and believes that the toxins produced from such a power plant would be bad for all children and nursing mothers.

Environmental Groups Voice Opposition

Several speakers during the hearing were from environmental groups throughout the state. One woman from the Ecology Center addressed concerns about asthma and other air pollution concerns. She argued that data shows many people have died from air pollution, others suffer asthma problems, and thousands of work-days have been lost from people being sick due to air pollution generated from coal burning power plants.

Several members of a local chapter of the Earth Institute and the Sierra Club also spoke against the proposed power plant. The State Director of the Sierra Club said that CO2 regulation is the main issue, even though the DEQ does not include CO2 emissions when making determinations about air quality. She said that Governor Granholm has spoken out for reduction of CO2, but that the Climate Action Council, which is making recommendations on this issue, is made up of “too many special interest groups, not scientists.”

Jan O’Connell with the Sierra Club said that the claim from the Holland Board of Public Works that the existing power plant meets current air quality standards isn’t true. She said that the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) designated both Ottawa and Kent Counties as non-attainment sites meaning there are unacceptable levels of air pollution and particulates for those two counties. O’Connell said that the permit should be denied based on the EPA finding.

Indigenous Community Lends Powerful Voice Against the Plant

Possibly the most compelling speakers during the public hearing were from the Native American community. Each of the Native speakers addressed the issue of mercury contamination that comes with coal burning and said that it disproportionately impacts Native people since they eat more local fish–much of which have high levels of mercury in Michigan. Another Native speaker criticized the DEQ for not conducting “an environmental justice assessment” and said that they felt like this was another example of how the government “does care about the well being of native people.” One Native speaker read from a copy of the permit request and read some of the “allowable” chemicals that the proposed coal burning plant would produce. He said that there are four pages consisting solely of chemicals that the proposed power plant would produce and asked, “How can any of these chemicals be good for our children and future generations?”

Opportunity for Further Public Comment

The public can submit comments to the Michigan DEQ up until January 30 on the proposed power plant for Holland.

You can submit comments through the DEQ or through Clean Energy Now.

Author Sandra Steingraber Discusses Links between Cancer and the Environment

Author Sandra Steingraber Discusses Cancer and the Environment

What relationship does environmental contamination have to human cancer?

To address that question, Calivn Colleges January Series turned to author and biologist Sandra Steingraber. Steingraber is a cancer survivor and it was her contracting of cancer that led her to investigate the causes of that cancer. Her investigation has led her to write several books on cancer and its links to environmental contamination. She has also become an outspoken critic of policies that destroy ecosystems.

Steingraber began her talk by sharing her personal story of being diagnosed with cancer while she was an undergraduate student in college. Over the past 30 years she has lived with a sense of uncertainty, since she undergoes constant testing to see if her cancer has resurfaced or mutated in another form. The former of cancer that Steingraber contracted was bladder cancer, one of the most common forms.

Cancer and the Environment

In her early interactions with the medical community, she discovered that there was little to no interest in environmental issues as it relates to cancer. She noticed that none of the literature in her doctor’s office addressed environmental issues related to cancer. The medical establishment was only interested in her “medical history.”

In her research for her first book, Living Downstream: A Scientist’s Personal Investigation of Cancer and the Environment, she discovered that the watershed and river near to wear she grew up in Illinois had high levels of toxins.

She also addressed the relationship between the crumbling economy and destruction of the environment. She gives the example of how pollination by bees has been impacted because of environmental contamination, a contamination that has resulted in less pollination, which leads to less food crop production.

She then presented the audience the idea of what would happen if the same urgency that the US now seems to be devoting to the economic collapse–was applied to the ecological catastrophe we now face. She cites mammal extinction increases, ocean pollution, air pollution, and climate change as proof of this catastrophe. What if politicians were presented with this information and they devoted a great deal of energy and money to reversing negative environmental trends? This Steingraber says, is not likely to happen.

Chemicals in Children

Once Steingraber became a mother, this awareness of the delicacy has increased and she now sees environmental justice as a human rights issue. Steingraber believes that an environmental human rights movement must come together and must confront the current human suffering that is directly tied to the destruction of the environment. How this happens is no easy task.

Steingraber mentioned that even with all the knowledge we have of the negative consequences of chemical contamination, only 5 of the 80,000 chemicals that are licensed in the US have ever been banned. She said that research now shows that there are typically over 200 chemicals that can be detected in the umbilical cord of pregnant women. Steingraber says this reality should force us to rethink what “pro-life” really means.

After birth, Steingraber says that some pollutants impact the respiratory systems of children and even cause early pubescence with US girls, the consequence of which lead to an increase of breast cancer when those girls grow up.

Building an Environmental Human Rights Movement

Steingraber believes that chemical reform will be a large part of this new environmental human rights movement. She says that because of feminism, she has had the opportunity to link her personal cancer to environmental destruction, unlike Rachel Carson, who wrote the groundbreaking book Silent Spring. Carson also had cancer, but was not able to publicly link her cancer to chemical contamination since her body was not an acceptable source in the academic world in the late 1950s.

She gave other historical examples of how social movements have made significant progress to radically change the world. Steingraber focused on the US abolition movement as an example and asked the audience if they could image what it was like to have legal slavery and how the US economy benefited from that. She hopes that an environmental human rights movement will make such a change wherein future generations could never imagine how companies can profit off contamination of the planet.

Study Links Dioxin Contamination to Breast Cancer

A new study has linked dioxin contamination in Midland, Michigan to increased instances of breast cancer. The research examines an area where Dow Chemical has polluted.

A new study published in Environmental Health has found that women who live in dioxin-contaminated areas in Midland, Michigan and in the Tittabawassee River floodplain have increased levels of breast cancer. Midland-based Dow Chemical has been responsible for dioxin contamination in the area.

From the study:


High levels of dioxins in soil and higher-than-average body burdens of dioxins in local residents have been found in the city of Midland and the Tittabawassee River floodplain in Michigan. The objective of this study is threefold: (1) to evaluate dioxin levels in soils; (2) to evaluate the spatial variations in breast cancer incidence in Midland, Saginaw, and Bay Counties in Michigan; (3) to evaluate whether breast cancer rates are spatially associated with the dioxin contamination areas.


High levels of dioxin in soils were observed in the city of Midland and the Tittabawassee River 100-year floodplain. After adjusting for age, we observed high breast cancer incidence rates and detected the presence of spatial clusters in the city of Midland, the confluence area of the Tittabawassee, and Saginaw Rivers. After accounting for spatiotemporal variations, we observed a spatial cluster of breast cancer incidence in Midland between 1985 and 1993. The odds ratio further suggests a statistically significant (alpha = 0.05) increased breast cancer rate as women get older, and a higher disease burden in Midland and the surrounding areas in close proximity to the dioxin contaminated areas.


These findings suggest that increased breast cancer incidences are spatially associated with soil dioxin contamination. Aging is a substantial factor in the development of breast cancer. Findings can be used for heightened surveillance and education, as well as formulating new study hypotheses for further research.”

Michigan Citizens Fight Toxic Contamination

A new group called the Protect Our Water and Environmental Resources Coalition (POWER) has formed in Northern Michigan to challenge a legacy of toxic pollution in the Chrlevoix Watershed.

There is an organized campaign to clean up and protect the Charlevoix Watershed in Northern Michigan. A group called The Protect Our Water and Environmental Resources Coalition (POWER) is organizing to fight a toxic legacy that is decades old.

The Penn Dixie company used to produce cement along the shore of Lake Michigan near Charlevoix. In 1980, the plant closed down but left behind a toxic legacy known as CKD – Cement kiln dust. CDK when mixed with water becomes leachate, a toxic bleach-like soup. It burns skin, kills fish and releases large amounts of heavy metals such as mercury, arsenic and lead. A DEQ study in 2004 showed that even in a diluted 10% concentration of leachate, the death rate of fathead minnow was 100%.

The site originally had a government designated “hazardous” label because of the piles of cement kiln dust. In 1991, then Governor John Engler changed the status of the site to “non-hazardous” in order to allow developers to build. In 1994, Bay Harbor developers and CMS Energy built a multi-million dollar resort without having to do any clean up of the site. In fact, they bulldozed the cement kiln dust into quarries and spread some on the ground to build roads and a golf course.

Golf courses use an excessive amount of water, which means that the cement kiln dust became leachate and is now contaminating the surrounding watershed. According to the POWER Coalition, the response to this disaster is to inject the toxic material into the earth. CMS Energy–instead of being forced to conduct an actual clean-up of the site–is proposing to move the contaminated water to the community of Alba and inject the water underground. Alba is the highest point in Northern Michigan and is headwaters to six great watersheds.

The POWER Coalition and Friends of the Jordan River Watershed are calling for an end to this contamination of Michigan’s water. The groups are encouraging people to send letters to Governor Granholm asking that she overturn the permit for the proposed site in Alba. If you want more information on ways to support this campaign contact the Friends of the Jordan River Watershed at

Dow and the Global Water Crisis: Helping or Deflecting Scrutiny?

Earlier this month, the Michigan League of Conservation Voters’ website had blog post criticizing the United Nations for praising Dow Chemical for helping on global water issues. The announcement came shortly after residents filed a class action lawsuit against the company for its pollution of Michigan’s Tittabawassee Riber. Of course, it does not take much thought to realize that good press for Dow has the potential to lessen focus on its destructive behavior.

A similar situation took place earlier this week in which Dow Chemical was praised while at the same time it was coming under scrutiny for its environmental record. On Monday, Dow Chemical announced a partnership with Michigan-based International Aid in which Dow will supply a plastic resin for water filters that International Aid is going to distribute in the developing world. However, the Midland Daily News reported that Dow Chemical is filing an appeal with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) in which it is trying to lessen its responsibility for cleaning up dioxin pollution. Dow Chemical argues that it is not the only responsible party and should not be the only one cleaning up the region.

Excerpts from Suppressed Great Lakes Study Released


The Center for Public Integrity has launched a new website called “Great Lakes Danger Zones?.” The website contains excerpts from a 400+ page study titled “Public Health Implications of Hazardous Substances in the Twenty-Six U.S. Great Lakes Areas of Concern” that has been blocked from release by the nation’s top health agency–the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention–since July 2007.

The study, which was commissioned at the request of the International Joint Commission (a bilateral independent organization that advises the United States and Canada on water quality), found considerable problems with water quality in the Great Lakes. Clearly, with Michigan being bordered by the Great Lakes, this is an important issue. A summary of the study by the Center for Public Integrity states that the study:

“…warns that more than nine million people who live in the more than two dozen “areas of concern”–including such major metropolitan areas as Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, and Milwaukee–may face elevated health risks from being exposed to dioxin, PCBs, pesticides, lead, mercury, or six other hazardous pollutants.

In many of the geographic areas studied, researchers found low birth weights, elevated rates of infant mortality and premature births, and elevated death rates from breast cancer, colon cancer, and lung cancer.”

Yet, despite being reviewed by scientists since 2004, the CDC decided not to release it just days before its scheduled July 2007 release. While the CDC has Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) has said that the study needs more review, scientists contacted by the Center for Public Integrity say that it is more likely that it has not been released because it raises uncomfortable points about the relationship between industrial pollution in the Great Lakes and human health.

Groundwater Contamination Found Near Palisades Nuclear Plant

photo of palisades plant

Groundwater samples taken on Monday near the Palisades nuclear power plant in Southwest Michigan have revealed radioactive contamination. A report filed by the plant–which is operated by New Orleans-based Entergy–found a concentration of tritium at 22,000 picoCuries per liter. This level of concentration exceeds levels set by the Environmental Protection Agency for drinking water. The EPA says that while tritium disperses quickly in the body and is excreted through urine, exposure to tritium can increase a person’s risk of developing cancer because it emits radiation.

In an article in the Grand Rapids Press, officials at the plant downplayed the finding, saying that it was not even required to report the finding because it was not found in a well that provides drinking water. In the same article, plant communications manager Mark Savage said, “there is no indication that this material has migrated to the other wells or to Lake Michigan.” However, the Michigan Messenger cites a study by the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research concluded that the federal limit for tritium in drinking water needs to be strengthened as it is “much more effective at causing harm than currently assumed by regulations” and can have a ” much more pronounced” effect on fetal development.

Citizens groups in Michigan have consistently challenged the safety of the Palisades plant, which began operating in 1971. They cite what they consider to be a history of accidents and the environmental threat of having the plant on the shore of Lake Michigan. Recent incidents at the plant include workers being exposed to radiation last year and a lawsuit charging that the plant is in violation of earthquake safety regulations. Despite preliminary approval from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the plant is still awaiting a proposed twenty-year extension of its operating license.

Michigan DEQ Cleanup Programs Face Funding Shortage

On Tuesday, representatives from Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) gave a presentation at the Women’s City Club on the agency’s funding levels.

michigan deq logo

Tuesday at the Women’s City Club in downtown Grand Rapids, local environmental and progressive groups–Clean Water Action, the Dwight Lydell Chapter of the Izaak Walton League, the West Michigan Sierra Club, Republicans for Environmental Protection, and Progressive and Friends of North Kent County–sponsored a presentation by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). The DEQ’s presentation was titled “Outta Sight!–Outta Mind!–Outta Money! Trouble Brewing Underground as Funding Levels Dwindle for Michigan’s Cleanup Program” and addressed the lack of funding for the DEQ’s cleanup programs.

The presentation consisted primarily of a PowerPoint presentation by Sharon Goble, who is a Part 213 Program Specialist in the Remediation and Redevelopment Division. Goble began by telling the audience that Michigan is second to the bottom for conservation spending per capita in the United States at $25. Not surprisingly, the DEQ will soon be out of money for cleanup projects and “Brownfield” development (previously developed sites that appear contaminated), despite the fact that nearly half of Michigan’s population lives within half a mile of a contaminated site. Much of this contamination is due to Michigan’s industrial legacy–a legacy that has left tens of thousands of contaminated sites with hundreds discovered each year.

According to Goble, her division of the DEQ is a “safety net” for contamination not covered elsewhere. Her division’s work is split into two areas–“remediation” and “redevelopment.” Remediation includes drum removals, tank removals, abating imminent fire/vapor/explosion hazards, emergency spill response, demolition, and alternate water provisions. The redevelopment portion of her work includes facilitating redevelopment of Brownfield sites in order to build a stronger economy. This work is spread across five program areas–the Michigan Contaminated Site Cleanup Program, the Leaking Underground Storage Tank Program, the Federal Superfund Program, a Brownfield redevelopment program, and the State Owned Sites Cleanup program. Through her division’s work, there have been 12,000 leaking tanks closed, $32 million spent from state funds used to conduct cleanup operations at 59 Superfund sites, and $95 awarded to 228 Brownfield redevelopment projects.

Despite what she termed the “successes” of the DEQ’s work, her division might lose the majority of its funding. To maintain the current level of work $95 million is needed annually (excluding the tank program, which needs an additional $177 million). With current funding levels and sources, by the beginning of the 2008 Fiscal Year (September 2008), her division will have a substantial shortfall. One-time funding and grants for her division have been depleted and other sources–including the 7/8ths of a cent Refined Petroleum Fund Fee on gasoline purchases–will only account for $14 million in continued funding. If the money is not somehow appropriated, the immediate consequences will be that no new projects will be undertaken, they will be unable to address emergency needs, and existing projects will be scaled back.

The $95 million cited by Goble includes $60 million for projects focused on sites that are critical threats to public health or natural resources, $25 million for staffing, and $10 million for Brownfield grants and loans. Her division’s tank program will required an additional $177 million per year with $140 million going towards newly reported releases, $25 million towards cleaning up orphaned sites where there is no liable party (ex: an abandoned gas station), and $12 million for program administration. Goble argued that this $177 million is urgently needed as Michigan has 21,000 confirmed releases (leaks) with 9,000 that have gone unaddressed. Because of its history with the auto industry, Michigan is third in the nation for the number of unaddressed releases. The top three states–Michigan, Florida, and California account for one third of all unaddressed sites in the United States. This includes 835 in the nine county that constitutes the DEQ’s Grand Rapids District.

Susan Erickson of the DEQ’s Environmental Stewardship Grants and Loans Unit argued that her area–slated to receive $10 million under the amount proposed by Goble–will otherwise run out of grant funding within a year and loan funding within two years. Her program offers low-interest grants and loans for the development of Brownfield sites with grants up to $1 million and loans up to $1 million (with no payment or interest for the first five years, and two percent each year after on the 15 year loan). Erickson said that the program discourages sprawl by encouraging development at sites already connected to the transportation and utility infrastructure, spurs private investment, and has created 12,000 permanent jobs.

Largest Dioxin “Hot Spot” Ever Recorded Found in Midland

Only a few weeks after the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that it has found potential clean-air and hazardous waste violations at Dow Chemical’s Midland, Michigan facility, federal scientists have announced that they have found a new toxic “hot spot” in the Saginaw River. The “hot spot”–a result of a concentration of dioxin released into the river by Dow Chemical–is twenty times higher than any previously recorded by the EPA. According to media reports, the “hot spot” has a concentration of 1.6 million parts per trillion, fifty times higher than the previously largest “hot spot” found in the Saginaw River. In Michigan, any contamination greater than 1,000 parts per trillion requires “corrective action.”

The Michigan Department of Community Health has issued a fish consumption advisory for the entire Saginaw River because of the discovery. Dow Chemical has said that “we don’t believe there’s any imminent or significant human health or environmental threat.” Despite Dow’s claims, it is currently cleaning up three “hot spots” on the Tittabawassee River due to health effects associated with dioxin. EPA studies have shown that dioxin damages livers, weakens immune systems, and affects reproduction In Michigan, residents living on the Tittabawassee River have been found to have 28% higher median levels of dioxin-like chemicals in their bodies.

Petition Filed to Stop BP’s Great Lakes Water Pollution Permit

The Alliance for the Great Lakes has filed a petition to force the state of Indiana to suspend a permit issued to British Petroleum (BP) that allows the company to increase the amount of pollution that the company is allowed to discharge into Lake Michigan at a refinery in Whiting, Indiana. Under the new permit, BP would be allowed to discharge nearly 1,500 pounds of ammonia and 5,000 pounds of “suspended solids” from treated sludge into Lake Michigan. This represents an increase of 54% and 35% while also giving BP until 2012 to adhere to federal limits on mercury discharge.

According to the Alliance’s petition–filed with Indiana’s Office of Environmental Adjudication–the permit process lacked transparency and shut out groups critical of the plan. Organizations who had submitted comments on the draft permit were not notified that the final copy of the permit had been made available for review, nor were groups informed of the appeal process. The Alliance for the Great Lakes asserts that the “final” permit draft permit was placed online without notice and without indication that it was the “final” permit. The Indiana Department of Environmental Management now claims that the appeal process is closed, as interested parties only have 15 days to appeal a permit once the final copy is posted.

The Alliance for Great Lakes petition is asking that permit be suspended and that the appeal process be reopened.