Mercury Pollution & Detroit Green Garage

  • The Detroit Green Garage, in the midtown area of the city. (Photo courtesy of the Green Garage)

A new report from the group Environment Michigan says 115 inland lakes and rivers in the state have advisories for mercury pollution. Eating contaminated fish is the main way people are exposed to mercury.

Jessica Surma is with Environment Michigan. She says children are especially at risk for adverse health effects from mercury exposure.

“These can include lowered IQs, developmental disabilities and problems with motor control.”

The Environmental Protection Agency says electric utilities are by far the largest manmade sources of mercury emissions in the U.S. The EPA is planning to regulate mercury from power plants – for the first time ever.

John Austerberry is with DTE Energy.

“We agree with the goal of those regulations, but we are concerned that the federal rules will not provide sufficient time for the utilities to plan and install control systems.”

He says the company doesn’t know yet how much any new mercury control systems might cost or how much of that cost they might pass on to customers.

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This is the Environment Report.

People everywhere are trying to get a grasp on what “sustainability” and “green jobs” really look like. That’s an especially urgent quest in a struggling city like Detroit. Some folks there have developed a building—and a community—that’s trying to find out. It’s called the Detroit Green Garage. Sarah Cwiek has this report:

The Detroit Green Garage was a sort of garage at one point. It started off in 1920 as a Model T showroom just north of downtown Detroit.

“There were actually no pillars because they used to drive Models T’s through here. They went in here and went out there.”

That’s Peggy Brennan. A few years ago she and her husband Tom got interested in all things sustainability related. They held weekly study groups on environmental issues, but they wanted to do more. So they went hunting for a space where they could create a larger green-focused community, and they found it here.

“What we ended up doing was spending two years with a community of people doing design work. As to how we were going to make it into how we were going to do materials, and all that stuff.”

The result: this former abandoned warehouse has been re-built from the inside, almost entirely from re-used and re-purposed materials. And the Green Garage largely creates its own energy—through solar panels and a geothermal heating and cooling system.

Now that the building itself is functional, the Green Garage is just now moving into its main role as a green business incubator. There are two businesses there already, and Brennan says they have room for up to 15.

Jason Peet has spent a lot of time at the Green Garage. He’s been getting help from Green Garage researchers and using workshop space as he launches his business.

Peet says when he first started hanging out here, all he had was an idea.

“I knew that I wanted to work with reclaimed wood and the problem of demolition, and the way demolition was being done in the city. I knew I wanted to produce a product out of that and that the history of the home was attached to the wood.”

Now, Peet is in the process of launching a business he calls Mend — one that makes furniture from wood taken out of Detroit homes that are about to be demolished. He sees it as a way to make something out of material that would otherwise go to the landfill—and preserve a bit of the city’s history.

Peet says Detroit is a great place to be for that because with tens of thousands of abandoned homes, there’s “tons of material” to work with. But he says there’s more to it than that.

“I think it’s a great place to do this work because there’s so many other people, there’s so much energy. And that’s something I experience on a daily basis.”

The Brennans say that’s exactly what they hope to foster with the Green Garage. Not just the businesses that could be the foundation of a new “green economy” — but a community working to define what it means to live sustainably.

For the Environment Report I’m Sarah Cwiek.

And that’s the Environment Report for today. I’m Rebecca Williams.