How long can you hold your breath?
That must be what some southwest Detroiters thought last weekend as a dense, dark cloud of petroleum coke dust was whipped up by wind before a Saturday evening rainstorm.
Randy Emerson, a member of the Windsor on Watch environmental group, taped the ominous scene from his side of the river for just over a minute, as shown here. He speaks to The Windsor Star about the video:
“I hope people see that it’s not what they say it is. Even with all the safety that people have promised, nature has a way of getting around that. They keep saying this stuff is safe, but it’s not. People shouldn’t be breathing this – especially with the high rate of asthma we have in this city already.”
Petroleum coke, called petcoke for short, is a byproduct of refining done at a Marathon Petroleum Corp. refinery in Detroit. Detroit Bulk Storage says the three-story riverside pile will be gone by the end of August.
Dave Battagello of The Star also quotes a Michigan Department of Environmental Quality spokesman, Brad Wurfel:
“It seems very challenging to reliably contain this material uncovered on this site.”
The industrial property where the petcoke has been stored in Detroit since last fall is owned by Ambassador Bridge owner Matty Moroun. He leased the lands to Detroit Bulk Storage. The company was doing so on behalf of billionaire businessmen Charles and David Koch — regarded as the largest customer and supplier of petcoke in the U.S.
The footage draws a critical response from U.S. Rep. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, The Detroit News reports:
“We’ve been told that the pet coke dust issue is being contained, but here is firsthand evidence to the contrary,” he said in a statement released Tuesday. “I am concerned and alarmed about repeated reports of pet coke blowing off the piles and into homes and businesses. It is critical that we get answers on how to properly store pet coke so we can protect public health and safety, and I will continue to fight to get answers on the potential long-term effects of pet coke on public health and the Great Lakes watershed.”