Detroit — July 15, 2013 at 12:32 pm

Detroiters now face breathing Koch Brothers’ toxic petroleum coke dust


Nothing to see here, please hold your breath and move along

As if they weren’t already dealing with enough in their daily lives, residents of downtown Detroit now have something else to contend with: exposure to toxic petroleum coke or “pet coke” dust. The Detroit Free Press is reporting that the state confirms that the dust is prevalent in the areas near the mountains of pet coke waste on the banks of the Detroit River.

Serene Arena could tell this wasn’t everyday dust.

Since last spring in her Detroit apartment, as she opened the windows from time to time, Arena was encountering something different.

“It’s a dusty place, but it had never been that thick or dark,” she said.

She figured the likeliest source is sitting less than 1,000 feet from her window at the 14th Street Lofts off West Lafayette Boulevard: a large, controversial pile of petroleum coke placed along the Detroit River earlier this year.

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 Department of Environmental Quality sees no problem and describes the pet coke dust as not posing ” a significant public health risk for inhalation exposure”. Others aren’t so sure. The dust contains Vanadium, which is classified as a possible human carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).

Breathing high levels of vanadium pentoxide may cause lung damage… Exposure to high levels of vanadium pentoxide in air can result in lung damage. Ingesting vanadium can cause nausea and vomiting. In animals, ingesting vanadium can cause decreased red blood cells and increased blood pressure.

The ownership of the piles is a convoluted mess. From the Detroit Free Press article:

The pet coke is owned by Koch Carbon and is piled on property owned by the family of billionaire Manuel (Matty) Moroun. It is leased to Norfolk Southern railroad, though Detroit Bulk Storage Inc. is handling the shipment and storage of the pile through some arrangement with the railroad.

A pile at a separate facility has been removed and “the company will focus on its core business: handling aluminum and steel-related products.”

It’s come to this. As Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr tries to solve Detroit’s seemingly intractable financial problems, Big Oil interests like the Koch Brothers are using Detroit as a dumping ground for toxic pet coke. Thankfully, Congressman and Senatorial candidate Gary Peters and House Democrat Rashida Tlaib are trying to bring more attention to the situation. Both have introduced legislation to try to protect Detroit citizens.

Wouldn’t be nice if Governor Snyder cared as much for the people of Detroit as the two Democrats do?

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