EPA and Michigan Take Action to Reduce Sulfur Dioxide Air Pollution in Detroit
CHICAGO (January 28, 2022) – Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced a formal determination that the Detroit area did not attain the sulfur dioxide air quality standard by the required deadline. This follows a court finding requiring EPA to determine, in accordance with the federal Clean Air Act, whether the area met an air quality standard by the 2018 deadline.
This announcement was expected by the state and is a result of a strategic decision made by EPA and the state of Michigan in 2018 to address sulfur dioxide emissions in Wayne County. Michigan requested EPA step in after U.S. Steel, a primary source of sulfur dioxide in the area, refused to voluntarily install additional pollutant controls on its facility and a court ruling blocked a state rule designed to reduce emissions. Since that time, EPA and Michigan have worked in partnership to reduce emissions from power plants, steel mills, and other industrial facilities in the area to significantly reduce sulfur dioxide air pollution. Air pollution monitors in the area now record levels that meet the health-based air quality standard for sulfur dioxide.
The determination clears the way for EPA to propose a Federal Implementation Plan for sulfur dioxide pollution in the Detroit area. Typically, a State Implementation Plan would have been used to ensure sustained sulfur dioxide reductions. However, a Federal Implementation Plan became necessary when a state court overturned a state rule in 2017 that was designed to mandate pollution reductions at the U.S. Steel facility. EPA expects the proposed Federal Implementation Plan to be publicly available this winter. This action will further improve Detroit's air quality and will ensure that air pollution in the entire area will permanently remain at levels protective of public health. EPA will not finalize the plan until the public has an opportunity to comment.
“EPA’s upcoming action, which we are making in close coordination with the state of Michigan, will reduce sulfur dioxide pollution in Detroit,” said EPA Region 5 Administrator Debra Shore. “This means everyone in the area will breathe cleaner, healthier air, which is especially helpful for vulnerable populations and overburdened communities.”
“EGLE greatly appreciates its partnership with EPA. These past few years of coordinated efforts has produced meaningful reductions in SO2 levels in a community that for too long has borne the unnecessary burden of this pollutant,” said EGLE Director Liesl Clark. “We are pleased that our air quality monitors are showing the positive impacts of this hard work and that citizens can begin to see the benefits of the air quality that they deserve.”
Due to the combined efforts of EPA, EGLE, and the community, the Detroit area has seen a reduction in sulfur dioxide emissions of greater than 70% since the area was designated as nonattainment for the standard in 2013, which required steps to attain and maintain the standards by reducing air pollutant emissions. The National Ambient Air Quality Standard for sulfur dioxide, which was set in 2010, is 75 parts per billion. The measured values in the area continue to show improvement and are currently below 44 parts per billion.
Reduced sulfur dioxide in the atmosphere means cleaner, healthier air for the residents of Detroit, especially children, the elderly, and those who suffer from asthma. Reduced levels of sulfur dioxide and other sulfur oxides are also beneficial for the environment. A decrease in these compounds means less haze and acid rain, which can harm sensitive ecosystems. This action is in line with EPA’s agency-wide commitment to advance environmental justice and deliver benefits to underserved and overburdened communities.
Today’s action another step toward identifying and addressing air quality issues in communities across Southeast Michigan. EPA has been working closely with EGLE on a number of air quality issues related to smog (ground level ozone), citizen complaints at individual facilities and challenges associated with guaranteeing environmental justice for all residents in Southeast Michigan, in addition to reducing sulfur dioxide pollution in Southeast Michigan.
For more information about NAAQS: https://www.epa.gov/naaqs
For information about air quality in your area: https://www.airnow.gov
For information about air quality trends: https://www.epa.gov/air-trends