A fuel spill at the Ford Flat Rock Assembly Plant has been identified as the source of vapors containing the potential carcinogen benzene in the city's sanitary sewer system the past few days, a spokeswoman with the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy said Friday.
"(Ford) has taken measures, including inserting plugs into the onsite sanitary sewer system to prevent it from entering the city’s sanitary system, at a location north of Gibraltar Road at the Ford Flat Rock Assembly Plant property," EGLE spokeswoman Jill Greenberg said.
Greenberg said initial estimates are that between 1,000 and 3,000 gallons of unleaded fuel spilled from the leak at the Ford plant.
The city of Flat Rock has begun using firefighting foam to suppress the vapors, she said.
"The emulsifying foam solution, which does not contain the contaminant PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances), is designed to bond with hydrocarbons like gasoline to help break down the organic compounds," Greenberg said. "It will be applied inside impacted sanitary sewers to lower combustibility."
Bob Holycross, vice president of sustainability, environment and safety engineering for Ford, released a statement Friday evening:
"Wednesday afternoon, we discovered what originally looked to be a relatively small leak in a pipe that carries gasoline used to fuel vehicles built at the plant," he said. "We shut down the fuel pipe, called in experts to remove gas from a containment tank and the primary storage tank, and notified officials of what we found. We believed then that the leak was contained to our property.
"With support from outside experts, we continued to investigate. Today, we determined that the scale of the fuel leak was much larger, and that Ford is the likely source of the problem in Flat Rock, for which we apologize."
Holycross added that the plant is on a planned closure through the long Labor Day weekend, and personnel are "urgently" working to address the fuel spill. "There's more we need to know in order to confidently develop and implement a corrective plan," he said.
"With officials, we’re also identifying people whose lives have been disrupted by this and are committed to helping those neighbors as we work through this problem."
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Wayne County Chief Executive Officer Warren Evans declared states of emergency earlier this week, as the mystery vapors spread in Flat Rock's sanitary sewers, impacting a nearly 4-square-mile area of the city.
Emergency and environmental responders, including EGLE, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and multiple area haz-mat response teams have spent the past two days searching for a source for the vapors, which were 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 precaution because of detected benzene levels, Greenberg said.
Benzene is a highly flammable chemical found in crude oil and gasoline and also used in a variety of industrial products and processes. Benzene is a carcinogen that harms human bone marrow and blood, though typically through high, prolonged exposure.
The area in which the vapors have been 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.
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 ill from the odors should leave their residence or business immediately, get to fresh air and call 911.
Contact Keith Matheny: 313-222-5021 or email@example.com.