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August 02, 2013

Cloud of Pet Coke Dust Blows Over Detroit River

Video surfaced this week of a big nasty cloud of pet coke dust blowing off a huge pile of the petroleum by-product that sits along the edge of the Detroit River in Detroit.

The massive pile comes from the Marathon Oil Company's refining of tar sands at its Detroit refinery, and it's been getting a lot of attention over the past few months. The site and pile are owned by Koch Carbon -- yep, a Koch brothers operation.

Some testing shows that the dust isn't harmful to people, but there are critics of that testing:

Jeff Gearhart, Research Director at the Ecology Center, said the new study results affirmed the state agency's results, but he still had concerns.

"Two of the toxic metals we detected, selenium and vanadium, are of concern in runoff and dust," he said. "MDEQ's conclusion of 'no significant public health risk' is overstated and mostly based on modeling, not actual environmental monitoring. I am still dissatisfied with the lack of on-the-ground data on air quality and particulate matter due to the un-permitted open storage of petroleum coke."

For Rhonda Anderson, Sierra Club environmental justice organizer in Detroit, it's good to have people wanting action on the pet coke pile, but the real problem is bigger. "The attention should be on the Marathon refinery -- that's where the Enbridge pipeline is bringing the tar sands oil for refining here in Detroit," she said.

Rhonda says this massive pile of pet coke toxins is just the latest environmental injustice for those living in Detroit's 48217 zip code area, known as the "most polluted zip code in Michigan."

In May an explosion and fire at the Marathon Detroit Refinery caused an evacuation for some nearby residents -- but not those in 48217.

The people living in 48217 are suffering the health effects of living in this heavily industrialized zone, and Rhonda is working with a large coalition of residents trying to secure emergency evacuation plans from Marathon and obtain more public information about the toxins being emitted from the facility.

"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.

Meanwhile, the nearby River Rouge neighborhood residents continue to fight for better air quality as they live in the shadow of the DTE Energy coal plant.

You can help -- get involved with the Detroit Sierra Club and help the community stand up to the dirty fuel industry.

-- Heather Moyer, Sierra Club

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