Sep 13, 2021
An estimated 1400 gallons of gasoline leaked into the sewer systems in Flat Rock, Michigan. The gas leaked from underground storage tanks at the nearby Ford plant.
The Environmental Protection Agency found high levels of benzene in the city’s sewer system. The EPA measured benzene levels at 6 parts per billion. They require oil refineries to maintain levels at or below 2.8 parts per billion.
Benzene in the sewer system could potentially cause fumes to enter local buildings. As a result, officials recommended over 1100 homes and businesses to evacuate the area. Breathing in high enough levels of benzene vapors can lead to death, or at lower levels to decreased blood cell counts, weakened immune systems, and even blood cancers with long-term exposure.
An area resident called a hotline to the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) on Monday, August 30, to report the odor of gasoline, before anyone at Ford informed anyone about the leak. EGLE inspectors went to the plant that Wednesday to investigate the leak. EGLE apparently later received an anonymous tip about another leak that day. Ford didn’t report that leak until the following day.
Jerry Clark, a highly experienced pipe fitter who was in charge of the original installation of the gas tanks and pipes at the plant, says an alarm should have alerted Ford right away. He said, "I don’t understand if it was a tank leak or a pipe leak, that was negligence on somebody’s part."
Over 10 days after the original leak, residents who have evacuated are still waiting for test results on air and water quality in their homes and have had to find other living arrangements. Ford made a big pronouncement that it was pledging 1 million dollars toward the costs of temporary shelters. Residents have pointed out that won’t go very far, given the number of homes and businesses forced to evacuate.
Area residents’ questions remain unanswered, but who trusts a major corporation like Ford to answer them truthfully?