News Bite

Detroit used cemetery dirt to backfill demolished homes

‘The risk is considered low,’ so long as water didn’t seep into caskets, the city says

Detroit’s home demolition program, sold as a way to remove blight from the landscape, used dirt from cemeteries to backfill hundreds of demolished homes, according to a report in Outlier Media.

As Detroit has demolished more than 23,000 homes during the tenure of Mayor Mike Duggan, there is no telling what else has been used as fill. Other reports say the city took dirt from area freeways. In The Detroit News, Charlie LeDuff reported that the feds have tested 200 sites for contamination.

Aaron Mondry and Kayleigh Lickliter report for Outlier that “contractors have used dirt from multiple cemeteries in Southeast Michigan to backfill hundreds of sites in Detroit.”

Outlier unearthed that previously unreported nugget of news from a September 2020 Livonia City Council meeting.

Outlier continues:

The Demolition Department is aware that contractors are using cemetery dirt to fill in holes after demolition and acknowledged this dirt has not been tested. Recent research has found high levels of arsenic, a dangerous carcinogen that can cause a range of health issues, as well as other metals and bacteria in the groundwater near Michigan cemeteries.

Since 2019, contractors have used cemetery dirt at 342 sites in Detroit, the Demolition Department told Outlier.

In an email to Outlier, Demolition Department spokesperson Ryan Foster said the city has approved cemetery dirt as backfill material because it believes it to be safe.

“Chemical compounds are going to decay in place and remain unmoved if there’s no water to seep into caskets and move it around,” she said. “In Detroit, where we don’t have a high water table and do have predominantly clay soil that inhibits the migration of contaminants, the risk is considered low.

To recap: The city of Detroit told a media outlet, in writing, that if water didn’t seep into the caskets and move the cemetery dirt around, “the risk is considered low” that the cemetery dirt is contaminated. Got it.

This would inspire outrage in any community in Michigan. Does not Detroit deserve better from its government?



Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.