By SUE SUCHYTA
Sunday Times Newspapers
TRENTON – Worried residents protested Aug. 16 at Trenton City Hall to continue to voice opposition to citywide rezoning, which could change the former McLouth site from mixed used to waterfront industrial.
Chaired by activists Kirsten Brockmiller and Ryan Stewart, speakers included Amy Sinclair Chappelle, who spoke about how industrial development could lower property values, which would impact retiree nest eggs, to Henry Ford Health System Dr. Lisa Rogers who addressed the asthma and lung cancer risks caused by exposure to diesel fumes from an intermodal shipping facility.
Chappelle said residents cannot let the community that their parents and grandparents helped build be decimated by an industrial waterfront.
“I feel like the city is looking at this from a financial standpoint, and to me, that is very short-sighted,” she said. “The long-term impact to our property values, the environment and our overall health is what should be looked at, not the short-term financial status of the city.”
Chappelle said many Downriver people have their net worth invested in their residential properties, and said an intermodal shipping facility on the waterfront could negatively impact those property values.
Brookmiller said industrial zoning at the former McLouth site would increase train traffic, which would not be within the city’s control.
“Trains and railways are federally governed, and rezoning would literally be giving up the reins to our future and our destiny,” she said.
Rogers, a cancer specialist, said in addition to an intermodal shipping facility’s noise pollution, road damage from heavy trucks, water pollution from lifting up the sediment at the site to allow freighters to come through the channel and the negative impact on the nearby wildlife refuge, there are health issues to consider.
She said an increase in train traffic could delay ambulances trying to get people to a hospital, and when the Grosse Ile toll bridge is raised, it will also delay ambulances.
“Prior to COVID, the No. 1 health problem in the United States was air quality,” Rogers said. “The big problem with trucks is that they are emitting diesel fumes, and very recently, diesel fumes were identified as a carcinogen.”
She said other substances in diesel fumes, including carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, volatile organic compounds and particulate matter are harmful.
“When you consider a site such as this, visualize a truck coming from Detroit to the Downriver area, and leaving its cargo and going back,” Rogers said. “Anywhere along that path, residences, schools, parks and play areas are subject to this pollution. In addition, when a truck parks outside of a site, idling, this also produces the same toxic diesel fumes.”
She said the particulates from an idling truck travel up to a half mile away.
“In studies of other intermodal sites, it has been demonstrated that within that half mile radius, children have an increased risk of asthma, or, if they have asthma, it is worse, and it sometimes requires increasing medications and trips to the emergency room,” Rogers said. “Lung development in young children is delayed, and they have poor lung function.”
She said women have more miscarriages when they live within a half mile of an intermodal shipping facility and more pre-term births.
“Surprisingly, these toxic compounds from diesel fumes also affect blood vessels, and there is an increased risk of heart disease and stroke,” Rogers said.
She said a detailed analysis of cancer in the Downriver area is not that different from Detroit.
“Wayne County has the highest rate of lung cancer in the state of Michigan,” Rogers said. “They have been able to link it partly to tobacco use, but in large part to industries that expose people to toxic compounds, including diesel.”
She reiterated that it has been recently verified that diesel fumes are a cause of lung cancer.
“For me, the health risks from this type of a development, an intermodal shipping site, are very real and they are very serious,” Rogers said. “These have to be considered very carefully when you are considering redevelopment of this site.”
Grosse Ile Township resident Mark Lane also spoke about the site, and called for the channel communities along the Detroit River to work together to “improve the nautical economy.”
Dearborn City Councilwoman Leslie Herrick added that it is an important responsibility to balance industry with the health of waterways.
“Now that McLouth is closed, that property can be cleaned up, it can draw people here with the economic value of the waterways,” she said. “So, you can preserve the waterways, clean it up and protect the environment and still capitalize on it for your economy if you choose mixed use.”
Herrick said giving the public access to the waterway would not occur if it were closed off for industrial use, and instead encouraged its use for public green space and recreational boating access.
“We can’t look short term,” she said. “We have to look long term, beyond ourselves, to the next generation, for what we do with the land now,” Herrick said.