Ford assembly plant fuel spill identified during Flat Rock fume emergency

A fuel spill at the Ford Flat Rock assembly plant has been identified as the source of fumes containing potentially carcinogenic benzene in the city’s sanitary sewer system in recent days, a ministry spokeswoman said on Friday. Michigan Environment, Great Lakes and Energy.

“(Ford) took action, including inserting plugs into the on-site sanitary sewer system to prevent it from entering the town’s sanitation system, at a location north of Gibraltar Road on the property of Ford Flat Rock assembly plant, ”EGLE spokesperson Jill Greenberg said.

Greenberg said early estimates are that between 1,000 and 3,000 gallons of unleaded fuel have spilled from the leak at the Ford plant.

The city of Flat Rock has started using fire fighting foam to suppress fumes, she said.

“The emulsifying foam solution, which does not contain the contaminant PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances), is designed to bind to hydrocarbons like gasoline to help break down organic compounds,” Greenberg said. “It will be applied inside impacted sanitary sewers to reduce combustibility.”

Bob Holycross, vice president of sustainability, environmental and safety engineering at Ford, released a statement Friday evening:

“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,” he said. “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 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, which we apologize.”

Holycross added that the plant is on a scheduled shutdown over the Labor Day long weekend, and that staff are working “urgently” to deal with the fuel spill. “We need to know more to confidently develop and implement a corrective plan,” he said.

“Together 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.”

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Wayne County General Manager Warren Evans declared a state of emergency earlier this week as mysterious fumes poured into Flat Rock’s sanitary sewers, affecting a area of ​​almost 4 square miles of the city.

Emergency and environmental responders, including EGLE, the United States Environmental Protection Agency, and hazardous materials response teams in several areas have spent the last two days searching for a source for the vapors, which have been detected at manhole covers and in some homes at flammable levels. Seven residences were evacuated as a precaution, and the River Heights Academy charter school on Olmstead Road is also closing until at least Tuesday as a precautionary measure due to detected benzene levels, Greenberg said.

Benzene is a highly flammable chemical found in crude oil and gasoline and also used in various industrial products and processes. Benzene is a carcinogen that damages human bone marrow and blood, although usually with high and prolonged exposure.

The area in which the vapors were detected is bounded to the north by Vreeland Road, to the west by Cahill Road, to the east by I-75 and to the south by Woodruff Road.

Three detectors are installed outside the pumping station on Olmstead Road near Cottonwood Drive in Flat Rock on September 3, 2021.
River Heights Academy on Olmstead Road in Flat Rock on September 3, 2021.

Anyone smelling a chemical-like odor in Flat Rock is asked to contact the City Fire Department’s non-emergency line at 734-782-2496 and dial 0. Anyone feeling sick from the odors must immediately leave home or business, go out into the fresh air and dial 911.

Contact Keith Matheny: 313-222-5021 or kmatheny@freepress.com.

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