Opponents of private facility say it’s unnecessary, unhealthy
DETROIT — Without a whimper, Minergy Detroit LLC’s plan for a
private incinerator for the city’s water and sewerage department
expired after five years of protests by union and environmental
But the company, a subsidiary of the giant Wisconsin Energy Corporation,
is still seeking to profit from its 15-year, $375 million deal with the
It wants to sell its contract to Houston-based Synagro Technologies,
which plans to transform sludge from the Waste Water Treatment Plant
downriver into fertilizer pellets for land application.
Environmentalists say the process has caused disease and death
A city council public hearing on the buy-out is set for Thurs. Feb. 26
at 7 p.m. at the South Rademacher Recreation Center, 6501 S. in Detroit.
“Ever since the EPA banned ocean dumping 10 years ago, a whole
industry has grown selling their processes to dispose of [sludge],”
said John Riehl, president of Local 207 of the American Federation of
“Detroit burns or buries ours. That system has improved. It is
certainly better than Synagro’s track record. But if the debate leads
council to support pelletizing, remember this, Detroit city workers can
do that work also. There is nothing that Synagro could offer that city
workers couldn’t do for a lot cheaper with investment in Detroit’s
Riehl and members of his local, which represents water department
workers, fought Minergy’s original plan, saying it would displace
nearly 200 city workers.
Water department worker Steven Borella told the council that there is no
need for either a private incinerator like that Minergy had planned, or
a pelletizing process.
“Our current incinerators have the capacity to handle all the
plant’s sludge, 5,266 tons a day,” said Borella.
“The department has invested $300 million in a computer control system
to operate the incinerators, and recent improvements can make them
Water Department director Victor Mercado told the council in a written
statement that the department had not received a proposal from Synagro
as of Feb. 2.
“In terms of the Minergy contract,” said Mercado, “DWSD has
previously responded to privatization concerns by assuring all parties
that no employee will be without a job. Waste Water Treatment plant
personnel impacted by the Minergy contract agreement will be retrained
Aside from the controversy over the privatization involved in the
proposed Synagro deal, problems relating to land application of sludge
are increasingly being raised across the country.
In the South Bronx in New York City, Synagro operates the world’s
largest sludge-to-fertilizer plant, which was built in 1993.
Neighbors in the largely Black and Latino communities near the plant
have complained of odors, emission of asthma-causing particulates, and
the flushing of industrial waste into the city’s sewer system.
“For the 11,000 people who live within two miles, it can be really
nauseating,” Elena Conte of Sustainable South Bronx, said.
“You can get to the point where you want to throw up.”
In addition to complaints from communities near sludge processing
plants, residents of hundreds of poor, rural areas where farms use the
sludge for fertilizer have claimed that the process has caused disease
In DeSoto County, Florida, residents say they believe that spates of
pneumonia, bronchitis, pleurisy, headaches, sinus infections, fevers and
severe diarrhea common in the area are directly attributable to the use
of sewage sludge on nearby farms.
Thirty-nine similar outbreaks of illness have been reported in
Pennsylvania, California, Virginia, and 11 other states, according to
public health experts.
In 2000, Synagro settled a New Hampshire lawsuit filed by the family of
26-year-old Shayne Conner out of court, for an undisclosed sum.
Conner’s family said he died after being exposed to sludge on a nearby
Synagro and other sludge processing companies have denied that the
illnesses and deaths are caused by their products, and have actively
fought lawsuits, seeking to discredit experts testifying on behalf of
The Michigan Citizen.