Mysterious substance in Flat Rock sewer system identified as benzene; probable source Ford Motor Co. – The News Herald

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The substance that caused a mysterious odor that led to the declaration of a state of emergency in Flat Rock has been identified, as has the potential source behind it.

Elevated levels of benzene have been detected in a 4 square mile area involving areas south of Vreeland Road, east of Cahill Road, north of Woodruff Road and west of I-75, according to reports. state officials.

Ford Motor Co. said its Flat Rock assembly plant was likely the cause.

“On Wednesday afternoon, we discovered what originally looked like a relatively small leak in a pipe that carries gasoline used to power vehicles built at the plant,” Ford said in a statement. “We closed the fuel line, called in experts to remove gas from a containment tank and the main storage tank, and informed authorities of what we found. We then believed that the leak was contained in our property. With the support of outside experts, we continued to investigate. Today we determined that the magnitude of the fuel leak was much larger and that Ford is the likely source of the problem at Flat Rock, for which we apologize. “

Early estimates point to an unleaded fuel spill of between 1,000 and 3,000 gallons, according to Jill Greenberg, spokesperson for the Michigan Department of the Environment, Great Lakes and Energy. Ford has taken mitigation measures, including inserting specialized sewer plugs into the on-site sanitary sewer system, she said.

Ford is shutting down operations in Flat Rock over Labor Day weekend to investigate further.

“As a precaution, we are isolating the sewage on our property from the city system,” Ford said in a statement. “Ford is helping government officials as cleanup begins in the community. Along with the authorities, we are also identifying the people whose lives have been disrupted by this and we are committed to helping those neighbors as we resolve this issue. “

Flat Rock Fire Chief James Katona and his firefighters have worked tirelessly with county, state and federal investigators to try to determine the type and amount of a hazardous substance that has emerged. dumped into the city’s sanitary sewer system. (Jim Kasuba – MediaNews Group)

Greenberg said the town of Flat Rock plans to use fire fighting foam to remove fumes from the town’s sanitation system. The emulsifying foam solution, which does not contain the PFAS contaminant, is designed to bind to hydrocarbons (such as gasoline) to help break down organic compounds. It will be applied inside impacted sanitary sewers to reduce combustibility.

Hazmat technicians will begin to mitigate flammable vapors in the municipal sanitation system by injecting fire fighting foam. Those activities will begin Friday evening and take place at various locations where benzene levels have been detected, Greenberg said.

Benzene is a chemical that is a colorless or light yellow liquid at room temperature. It has a sweet odor and is highly flammable. Benzene evaporates very quickly in the air.

Friday night’s update ends days of concern that have led local, county, state and federal health officials to visit various sites around Flat Rock to try to determine the root of the problem .

While 10 residences were evacuated, along with the nearby River Heights Academy Charter School, no odor-related illnesses were reported, officials said.

“We are responding to this as quickly as possible,” Flat Rock Mayor Mark Hammond told reporters at a press conference at 10:30 am. “”There is a problem. There is an environmental concern in our sanitary sewer system.

Mayor Mark Hammond, speaking to a group of reporters at a press conference Friday morning, said public safety was his number one concern and the city’s job was to protect its residents. (Jim Kasuba – MediaNews Group)

Late Thursday, Wayne County Director Warren Evans declared a state of emergency for Flat Rock after a hazardous material spill was detected in the city’s sanitary sewers on the night of August 30.

The emergency order called on the governor to declare a state of emergency for Flat Rock in order to expedite the cleanup and investigation of the spill. Hazardous materials teams from the Wayne County Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management are on hand to help local authorities respond to the emergency.

Shortly after the county’s request, Governor Gretchen Whitmer declared a state of emergency for the town of Flat Rock, as well as Wayne and Monroe counties.

“We are working closely with local authorities and emergency teams to investigate the source of these fumes and protect the safety of area residents,” Whitmer said. “My top priority is to ensure that all resources are available to the Town of Flat Rock, Wayne County and Monroe County to determine where the smell is coming from, so that we can clean up the affected area. and prevent further damage. ”

In declaring a state of emergency, Whitmer made all state resources available in cooperation with local response and recovery efforts in the designated area. The statement empowers Michigan State Police, Division of Emergency Management and Homeland Security to coordinate state efforts beyond what MSP / EMHSD has already done in conjunction with local agencies .

On September 1, the town of Flat Rock declared a local state of emergency after discovering high levels of an unknown gas in the town’s sewer system and in neighboring homes. Officials said hazardous materials crews worked tirelessly to evacuate affected areas and find the source of the fumes.

The Environmental Protection Agency and the State of Michigan are on hand to help with the response.

Officials stressed that this spill does not affect the community’s drinking water.

Originally, the perimeter of the area of ​​concern extended from Gibraltar Road to the north, I-75 to the east, Huron River Drive to the south, and Cambridge to the west.

However, due to “findings” Thursday night, the perimeter extended a mile north to Vreeland Road.

Trish Edwards, the EPA’s on-site coordinator, said surveillance of the air in the affected area had continued since Tuesday afternoon. Water samples were also taken.

“We worked closely with the local hazardous materials teams,” she said. “We’ve been on those teams, as well as the Department of Utilities here in Flat Rock. Our teams systematically went out and inspected sanitary manholes throughout the affected community. “

Edwards added that when calls came in from concerned residents, those concerns were investigated. She said the residents who were asked to evacuate were done on the basis of the EPA readings.

Hammond said major industries in the region have been supportive and cooperative, adding officials have asked them to do things outside of their normal operations, like checking fuel tanks at gas stations.

Fire Chief James Katona estimated that between 200 and 300 people were involved in the investigation.

At least a dozen federal, state and local agencies responded to Flat Rock to determine the source and identify the substance, Greenberg said.

Anyone who smells in or near the area of ​​concern is asked to contact the non-emergency line at 734-782-2496 and dial zero “0”.

If someone is showing symptoms or feeling sick, it is recommended that you immediately leave their home or business, get fresh air and call 911.

Residents with further questions can email Hammond at [email protected] or leave a voicemail message at 734-789-2324. Hammond said his email and phone would be checked regularly.


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