The Detroit Incinerator and its emissions

In 1986, Detroit built the world’s largest municipal trash incinerator; it officially opened three years later, in 1989.  According to the East Michigan Environmental Action Council, the incinerator was considered by many politicians and residents as something that would attract new businesses to Detroit because at the time, incineration was considered the safest and most cost-effective way to dispose of trash (  Instead, the incinerator has been a controversial issue in Detroit politics over the past 20 years. According to and, the incinerator was able to be created through about $440 million in bonds that were issued for financing. It is said to burn about 2,800 tons of trash daily at a cost of about $150 per ton, according to to and,

The incinerator is located  near the intersection of the Chrysler and Edsel Ford Freeways (X marks the spot on the map); This is just outside Midtown Detroit, an area that has experienced a renaissance of new development and repopulation over the past few years.

The following table describes selected pollutants reported by facilities to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) in 2010. The chart which follows depicts the share of the overall reported pollutants attributable to Detroit Renewable Power. The incinerator generated approximately 25% of all pollutants reported by the 56 facilities in Detroit, Michigan, that made reports to MDEQ. It was also responsible for 30% of the carbon monoxide, 41% of the nitrogen oxide and 16% of the sulfur dioxide reported to the MDEQ.

As can be seen in the next chart, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide, and sulfur dioxide make up the overwhelming majority of chemicals emitted from the incinerator. Other pollutants reported to the MDEQ include ammonia, particulate matter, lead, and volatile organic compounds.

According to the Great Detroit Resource Recovery website,  the incinerator is below their regulation limit for the various pollutants it produces. It should be noted though that is information is an average from 2004-2006 and and does not include carbon monoxide emissions.



Several Detroit environmental groups and residents have blamed the incinerator for Detroit’s high prevalence of asthma among children and adults.

We will examine this assertion more closely in a future post.

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