Those massive piles of petcoke that have been stored on the banks of the Detroit River have created yet another concern in the form of thick black clouds of petcoke dust stirred by a recent storm, and floating across the way into Windsor, Canada.
Detroit residents are also worried about their health and that of their children.
"Late last month, Arena wiped a new coating of dust up with a new sponge and provided it to the Free Press, which gave the sample to the Ann Arbor-based Ecology Center, an environmental nonprofit that previously tested a sample of pet coke from the Detroit River pile provided by state Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit.
Testing confirmed Arena’s suspicion: The dust contains pet coke.
“If it’s on my countertops, it’s going into my lungs,” she said. “It’s going into the Detroit River and affecting the ecology there. Who knows where else it’s going?”'
The state Department of Environmental Quality evaluation of the piles earlier this year found that they “do not pose a significant public health risk for inhalation exposure.”
Ecology Center research director Jeff Gearhart said "But small particles of pollution more easily lodge in people’s lungs and can lead to respiratory problems and worsen asthma."
“We’re very concerned about distribution of fine particulate from this source and other sources,” he said.
"Vanadium, one of the metals found in the pet coke dust, is possibly cancer-causing in humans in prolonged or elevated exposure levels, according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer, a France-based organization that coordinates cancer research between nations. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, however, have not classified whether vanadium is carcinogenic.
For respiratory problems, the “minimum risk level” for vanadium — a daily level of exposure above which a person could expect to experience health impacts — is a scant 0.0008 milligrams of the metal per cubic meter of air, according to the EPA. But vanadium levels in air samples near the pet coke piles are not being monitored — only fine particulate levels, said Lynn Fiedler, assistant division chief of the DEQ’s Air Quality Division.
“The DEQ has unnecessarily claimed that they don’t see any hazards associated with this site, when they simply don’t have the data to support that,” Gearhart said."
When the huge black mounds that sit on the riverbanks of southwest Detroit just appeared one day, residents were puzzled and concerned.
“One of the biggest concerns when we saw the black piles is what is it, and where is it coming from?” said State Representative Rashida Tlaib (D-Detroit). She said residents contacted her worried that the black piles could be toxic.
A Marathon spokesperson told Fox 2 they sold the pet coke. It is now the property of Koch Carbon. Koch Carbon is part of Koch Industries, run by Charles and David Koch.
“What is really, really disturbing to me is how some companies treat the city of Detroit as a dumping ground,” said Rashida Tlaib, the Michigan state representative for that part of Detroit. “Nobody knew this was going to happen.” Almost 56 percent of Canada’s oil production is from the petroleum-soaked oil sands of northern Alberta, more than 2,000 miles north.
One of the piles of petcoke has been removed from the riverfront, Nicholson Terminal and Dock, which manages operations at the Detroit/Wayne County Port Authority site southwest of the Ambassador Bridge along the river, has opted to get out of the petroleum coke, or pet coke, business.
"Company treasurer Patrick Sutka said the company will focus on its core business: handling aluminum and steel-related products.
Sutka said Nicholson had informed its customer that it would not be accepting any more of the material. The pet coke is a by-product of tar sands oil refining from the Marathon refinery in southwest Detroit. The pet coke is handled by Detroit Bulk Storage and owned by Koch Carbon."
All of the petcoke will be heading out of Michigan soon, at least for now.
"A spokesman for Koch Carbon, the owner of the pet coke, confirmed the piles are leaving Michigan for another, undisclosed state. Months of public outcry over the riverside piles, however, isn’t motivating the move.
“Koch Carbon has made a business decision to store purchases of petroleum coke from Marathon Petroleum at another port outside the state of Michigan,” Koch Carbon spokesman Paul Baltzer said in an e-mailed statement. “This decision was made to meet our shipment needs.”
But a spokesman for the local company hosting the pet coke, Detroit Bulk Storage, indicated the removal of the piles “is temporary.”'
Fortunately for all, Democratic Senators Carl Levin, Debbie Stabenow and Congressman Gary Peters have introduced legislation to study the health effects of petcoke:
"Michigan’s U.S. senators are pushing legislation to study the effects of petroleum coke on people’s health and the environment, motivated largely by a large pile of the refinery byproduct which at least until recently had been located beside the Detroit River.
U.S. Sens. Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow, both D-Mich., were joined by Sens. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and Dick Durbin, D-Ill., in sponsoring the bill, which would require the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to research its health and environmental impacts, estimate future production and assess the best way to store and move it.
U.S. Rep. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, has introduced companion legislation in the U.S. House."
Members of the Detroit Coalition Against Tar Sands (DCATS)recently protested a delivery of petcoke. According to Stephen Boyle, Detroit Bulk Storage simply found another site to dump their petcoke.
DCATS members took a quick trip to the rumored location -- at the River Rouge at a smaller dock behind U.S. Steel to verify what was present and captured some video along the way.
The storage practices shown clearly violate Michigan Department of Environmental Quality requirements. Detroit Bulk Storage is showing up as a repeat offender of illegal dumping of a petroleum byproduct:
So while Detroit will soon be rid of its' petcoke problem (But not any lingering environmental issues that might impact health) they're headed to an undisclosed location...perhaps in your state, until they return to the banks of the Detroit River.