Guest Commentary: Thanks for the early Christmas gift – air pollutants and toxins

By Ted Zahrfeld

Thank you for the early Christmas “gift,” Governor, Michigan “EGLE” Director, Genesee Township Zoning, and Ajax CEO, of allowing a polluting asphalt plant in our poorest Flint neighborhood.

This “gift” will bring and keep on giving air pollutants, toxins, and odors to the surrounding low-income predominately Black community as it operates in years to come.

Yes, Flint, there are indeed four Grinch Santa Clauses: Governor Whitmer, Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) Director Liesl Clark, Genesee Township Board of Trustees and Zoning Board, and Ajax Materials Corporation CEO, Jamie Jacob.

EGLE Director Liesl Clark at a press conference held at the Flint Water Plant in July 2021. (Photo by Tom Travis)

Thank you, Governor Whitmer, for “staying in your own lane”— effectively looking the other way — and allowing EGLE to approve in November the permit for Ajax’s hot mix asphalt plant. The plant will be located directly on the border of Flint, a community still recovering from lead poisoning, as well as existing industrial pollution.

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer speaking to the press at Flint’s Hamilton Community Health Clinic in late February 2020. (Photo by Tom Travis)

The asphalt plant, your “gift,” will be located feet away from low-income public housing, which is home for nearly 600 children. Paving roads by producing asphalt in a predominately Black community disproportionately impacts children , and all others nearby, by exposing them to all kinds of health hazards.

Ajax protest sign in front of the St. Francis Prayer Center located on Carpenter Road. The border between Genesee Township and the City of Flint. (Photo by Tom Travis)

Governor, the fact is these contaminants will accumulate in the bodies of the Flint children. It is too bad you didn’t give the gift of pausing the air permit until a proper analysis of the cumulative impacts that this plant will have on the Flint community can be conducted, as requested by the community.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Thank you, EGLE Director Liesl Clark, for ignoring the Michigan Air Toxic Rule, (see below Rule 228 and Rule 901 1) which gives EGLE the power and authority to require a cumulative impact assessment on toxic air contaminants of a proposed project and to fully consider environmental justice concerns in its permitting decisions.

The Michigan Air Toxic Rule reads: EGLE has the authority to require a cumulative impact assessment regarding any toxic air contaminant pursuant to Mich. Admin. Code R. 336.1228 (Rule 228) and Mich. Admin. Code R. 336.1901 In addition, the Michigan Environmental Policy Act, MCL 324.1705(2), requires that EGLE consider the effect of the proposed permit on the environment and should not authorize conduct that will pollute, impair or destroy the air, water or other natural resources if there is a feasible and prudent alternative consistent with the reasonable requirements of the public health, safety, and welfare. (Rule 901).

Instead, EGLE awarded Ajax Materials Corporation an air permit for a polluting asphalt plant in a known environmental justice community. Year after year, your “gift,” this plant,  will emit toxins like lead and arsenic
into the community.

Despite calls from the St. Francis Prayer Center, located at 2381 Carpenter Rd. in Flint, and despite calls from others, as well as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, to implement “a cumulative impact assessment regarding any toxic air contaminants,”  you ignored all advice and issued the permit: your “gift” of a forever polluting plant.

Heavy machinery on the future Ajax Asphalt plant on Energy Drive. (Photo by Harold Ford)

Thank you, Genesee Township Board of Trustees and Zoning Board, for selling 5088 Energy Drive and issuing a building permit without considering the surrounding area’s environmental justice history. The Genesee Township Board deferred when the attorney for the Township stated that as long as local zoning requirements are met, anything can be built on the industrially zoned land —including a nuclear power plant.

Trustees admitted that the Genesee Township zoning laws are weak and the master plan is outdated. Your “gift” is to show no concern to review your decisions, or any responsibility to fix the laws and master plan that allow Flint to be an industrial playground.

Thank you, Ajax CEO Jamie Jacob, for the “gift” of your hot mix asphalt plant. As we unwrap the layers of your “gift,” we have to ask: why site an asphalt plant near a low income and predominately Black neighborhood that already has one of the highest rates of asthma hospitalizations in the state? Your “gift” of another industrial site near public housing, will allow a child to walk to your plant for a bucket of hot mix.

Jamie Jacob CEO Ajax Paving. (Photo source:

There is no grocery store, bank, or restaurant in walking distance. These low-income families have no place, and no readily available means, to escape from your plant. As chairman of the Midnight Golf Program you are proud of this program’s support, guidance, and financial resources which provide opportunities to high school and college students. Does your philanthropy to these young people justify the “gift” of a hot asphalt plant to Flint’s children?

Governor Whitmer, as it turns out, your “Pure Michigan” is not so clean. The continuing Flint water crisis, the water crisis unfolding in Benton Harbor, the impacts of the Detroit Jeep Stellantis plant, and now the anticipated impacts of the Ajax hot mix asphalt plant located in Flint — all these give Michigan a black eye — and black skies. The poor north side of Flint may be rather insignificant among all of Michigan’s challenges to you, but can you at least “spare a dime” of concern for our Flint children?

EVM Guest Commentator Ted Zahrfeld is Board Chair of St Francis Prayer Center which is the adjacent property to the Ajax asphalt plant. In its 40th year St. Francis Prayer Center (SFPC) is a non-profit that serves residents of the nearby public housing community, River Park, as well as other residents in Flint.

This guest commentary has been slightly edited by EVM.

Author: Tom Travis

Share This Post On