- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 11, 2014

DEARBORN, Mich. (AP) - A Detroit-area steel plant would be allowed to release higher amounts of toxins under a revised permit proposed by the state Department of Environmental Quality that would bring its allowed emissions more in line with what the facility actually sends into the air.

The changes to a 2006 emissions permit would approve releasing more than 725 times more lead into the air from one portion of Severstal in Dearborn, the Detroit Free Press reported (http://on.freep.com/1gha5RS ). Permitted lead and manganese releases also would be higher.

The DEQ and officials with the Russian steelmaker said the change will not be an increase in pollutants; instead, it’s what has already been sent out by the plant for years. The DEQ said Severstal’s 2006 emissions permit was based on incomplete data.

“They had tested previously, but we questioned the validity of some of those results because their equipment was in disrepair,” said Vince Hellwig, chief of the DEQ’s Air Quality Division. “The permit today is based on current testing, after the repairs have been made.”

The levels emitted by Severstal are not a public health concern, Hellwig said.

The company has invested more than $1.6 billion into the plant, including pollution control. Severstal formed its Severstal Dearborn operations when it purchased the nearly century-old Rouge Steel plant in 2004. It makes steel for the auto industry and others.

“Severstal recognizes that it purchased a plant that was challenged to meet its environmental goals, but accepted that challenge and invested significantly to improve the plant’s environmental performance,” said Severstal spokeswoman Katya Pruett.

For area residents, surrounded by refineries and other heavy industry, word of the proposed change and issues with the 2006 permit aren’t welcomed.

“The fallout here is every day,” said Patricia Guziak, 58, who lives less than a mile from the Severstal facility in the Detroit suburb of Melvindale. “It has ruined the paint on my car. In the summertime, I’m sweeping up black dust every day. Dust is dust, but this is not normal.”

Under the proposed permit change, carbon monoxide emissions would be approved to more than double; allowed volatile organic compounds releases would rise; and allowances for fine dust emissions would rise several times from previously approved levels.

Jaye Rodriguez, who said her family has lived in the area for 10 years and, opposes the permit changes for Severstal, but said she doesn’t believe that her opinion matters. Despite the nearby factories and pollution, she said, her family doesn’t regret making their home in the area.

“We’ve got a good neighborhood,” she said.

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Information from: Detroit Free Press, http://www.freep.com