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24 Mar 12 State Officials Agree to Soil, Water Testing at Abandoned Auto Parts Plant

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During a packed community meeting at Greater St. Matthew Baptist Church in Highland Park, Michigan, neighborhood residents and former workers told officials from Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) about chemical spills and safety issues at Chrome Craft, an abandoned auto parts plant owned by Illinois billionaire Shahid Khan.


“Everyone is entitled to a good quality of life,” said Shareef El-Mubarak, president of the Masjid Al-Nur Mosque and Community Center, located just a few blocks from the closed Chrome Craft plant on Midland Street in Highland Park.  “I want to know if something is there, what kind of effect it could have on residents, and any long-term impacts to the children who have played here for years.”

The facility, which put chrome on bumpers for auto manufacturers, was cited 39 times for violating the federal law regulating disposal of hazardous waste between 1993 and 2009.  Former workers and neighborhood residents called on DEQ to begin immediate testing of soil and water surrounding the plant.

Based on testimony gathered so far, DEQ agrees that testing is necessary, said Paul Owens, supervisor of the Southeastern Michigan district office of the Department’s remediation division. DEQ will begin additional interviews with workers and residents within the next two weeks, he said during tonight’s meeting.  DEQ will then develop a plan for soil and water testing and present it to workers, residents and Chrome Craft officials.

Hexavalent chromium, a known carcinogen, was one of the chemicals used at Chrome Craft.  A lawsuit over the illegal disposal of this chemical was the subject of the Oscar-winning film Erin Brockovich.

“Spills inside the plant and standing pools of chemicals were a near everyday experience,” said Mike Miley, a member of UAW Local 174 who worked at ChromeCraft for 20 years. “But there were also spills of chemicals outside the plant.  In the back of the plant was an alley that had spills probably twice a week.”

Patricia Pitts, who grew up in a house across that same alley, also spoke during tonight’s meeting. Together with her mother and aunt, they raised seven children in that house.

“When I was a child growing up, the main place children played was in the alley – we would play kickball, baseball, and jump rope back there,” said Pitts. “I know of eight people who lived on the street facing that alley who have had cancer.”

“We need testing of the soil and water around this facility, and we need it now,” said D. Alexander Bullock, pastor of Greater St. Matthew Baptist Church.  “This plant is owned by one of the richest men in the world; he shouldn’t leave families behind with this kind of uncertainty about their health and well-being.”

The Chrome Craft plant, idled in 2009, is a unit of Flex-N-Gate, an auto parts manufacturer owned by Shahid Khan.  Forbes, which lists Khan as one of the world’s newest billionaires, estimates his net worth at $2.5 billion.  He is also the owner of the NFL Jacksonville Jaguars.

Highland Park is one of the most economically challenged communities in the state of Michigan, with a median household income of just $18,700. Thirty percent of households earn less than $10,000 annually.  

“You can’t find a better example of why environmental justice is a top priority for our union,” said UAW Vice President Cindy Estrada, who directs the UAW’s Independents, Parts and Suppliers (IPS) Department.  “The people who worked at this plant and the residents who live near it deserve to know exactly what they are facing.  And if we find dangerous chemicals here, they deserve the same kind of fast, thorough clean-up Shahid Khan would insist on if the problem was in his own backyard.”

More information, including testimony from workers and residents, is available at  Participating labor and community organizations include: Green Door Initiative; Greater St. Matthew Baptist Church; NAACP- Highland Park Branch; NAACP – Detroit Branch; International Union, UAW; Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice; Coalition of Black Trade Unionists – Detroit Chapter; Community Action and Response Against Toxics; Masjid Al-Nur Mosque; Sierra Club, Detroit Office.

Media Contact: Roger Kerson,, 734.929.2875,

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