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Congressional bills would set federal safety standards for petroleum coke

Nathan Bishop

Federal lawmakers, two from Michigan and two from Illinois, have introduced bills that would require the federal government to address concerns about petroleum coke exposure.

Petroleum coke is a byproduct of refining crude oil. 

The legislation calls for federal agencies to complete a study of the health and environmental risks posed by petroleum coke. It also would require the implementation of federal safety regulations for the storage and transportation of petroleum coke. The standards would be based on the study's findings.

U.S. Senator Gary Peters (D-MI) co-sponsored the legislation in the Senate along with U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL). U.S. Representatives Rashida Tlaib (MI-13) and Robin Kelly (IL-2) introduced a version of the same bill in the House. Peters and Durbin introduced the same bill in 2015. 

Peters said petroleum coke has been piled uncovered in Detroit in the past, and in other parts of the country.

"We've seen problems in the past along the Detroit River, in Detroit, in the Southwest part of the city, where these particles were blowing into people's homes," said Peters. "It was getting into their lungs. We had residents complaining of respiratory issues."

"It's time we have regulations in place to make sure this material is being handled in a safe way," Peters said. 

Marathon spokesman Jamal Kheiry said the company is reviewing the proposed legislation and will provide comment to the bill sponsors.

Marathon Petroleum is currently seeking a variance to a 2017 Detroit ordinance. The variance, if granted, would allow the company to store petroleum coke in an uncovered structure at its southwest Detroit refinery. The public has until March 18 to submit comments on Marathon's proposal. 

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