Concern over petroleum coke being stored along the Detroit River

Concern over petroleum coke being stored along the Detroit River

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This image of pet coke stored along the Detroit River was captured from SkyFox. This image of pet coke stored along the Detroit River was captured from SkyFox.
DETROIT (WJBK) -

It is called petroleum coke, or pet coke for short, and tons of it are piling up along the Detroit River.  You can see it blowing in the wind, and there are worries it is blowing into our lungs and into the water.

"What is it doing to the soil, the air in an already very polluted area," said community activist Gloria Rivera.

"We have play lots and soccer teams just blocks away, and children can be exposed to this and be breathing it in," said Michelle Martinez from the Consortium of Hispanic Agencies.

Martinez and Rivera live in southwest Detroit.  Rashida Tlaib is their state representative.

"I cannot believe that the city would allow this toxic kind of material near our water, near the riverbanks like that," she said.

You probably don't even think about it when you're filling up your tank that the fuel is coming from a Marathon refinery in southwest Detroit or that there is more than just gasoline coming out of that facility.  Petroleum coke is the byproduct of the relatively new process of tar sands oil refining.  That byproduct is now, to the surprise and dismay of many, being trucked to two sites along the Detroit River.

A Marathon spokesperson told Fox 2 they sold the pet coke.  It is now the property of Koch Carbon.  Koch Carbon is part of Koch Industries, run by Charles and David Koch.  The Koch brothers are well-known for their financial support of Republican political candidates, but it is their petroleum coke that is now creating quite a stir.

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality said Detroit Bulk Storage is responsible for the pet coke.  They declined comment.

The stuff is piling up in the street, not just the dust, but we found big chunks on the sidewalk.  If you are breathing in the stuff, you sure want to know what is in it, and if it is running off into the Detroit River, how harmful is that?

"What you're worried about is storm water runoff, is water running through the pile into the river causing contamination issues for the river.  Is there fugitive dust issues?  Are we breathing something we shouldn't be breathing?" said James Clift with the Michigan Environmental Council.

Such as trace metals and hydrocarbons.  U.S. Representatives John Conyers and Gary Peters have asked the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to investigate.  The DEQ told Fox 2 that the pet coke could be dangerous, and Detroit Bulk Storage must apply for permits regarding dust and water.

One of the properties where the pet coke is being stored is owned by Ambassador Bridge owner and local billionaire Matty Maroun, but they are not involved.  Their property is leased to Norfolk Southern, who has told them they are not in violation of their lease or environmental regulations.

The other site is owned by the Wayne County Port Authority.  A spokesperson there said the property is leased to Nicholson Dock, and the pet coke is being removed and shipped to Canada.

The Detroit Water Department also told us the pet coke is being removed, but could be stored there in the future.

"We got to do something about it right away.  We got to protect our public health and our environment.  This is our beautiful Detroit River.  It is very hard to go back and clean something up that should have never actually happened in the first place," Tlaib said.

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