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Chemical spill forces expansion of evacuation in Flat Rock

Lester Graham
Michigan Radio

Update Sunday, Sept. 5 11:05 am:

The state and Wayne County health departments are expanding the area recommended for evacuation due to potentially harmful benzene fumes, the source of which has now been traced to a storage tank at Ford’s Flat Rock Assembly Plant.

People living in the area bounded by I-75 to the east, Gibraltar Road to the north, Cahill Road to the west and Woodruff Road to the south are encouraged to evacuate so their homes can be tested.

There’s also a bigger area under investigation for potential exposure.

“Breathing in higher levels of benzene can cause people to feel sleepy or dizzy, have headaches, vomit or have a rapid heart rate,” the state said in a press release. “Both long- and short-term exposure to benzene can increase risks of cancer, cause blood problems, and harm the immune system. Contact your health care provider if you have symptoms or health concerns, or if you believe you may have been exposed.”

Anyone who needs assistance with evacuation or relocation can call Flat Rock’s hotline at 734-782-2455, ext. 6.

Come back to michiganradio.org for more on this developing story.

Original post, Friday, Sept. 3:

Federal, state, and local officials are working to find the source of some flammable chemicals discovered in the City of Flat Rock’s sewer system, which led Governor Gretchen Whitmer to declare a state of emergency for the city. It straddles the border of Wayne and Monroe counties.


“The monitoring that we've done in the sanitary sewer system has shown elevated hits of benzene and VOCs. We know that those two materials can be flammable. So that's a main concern,” said Joe DeGrazia, Incident Management Specialist with the Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE).

The area being investigated is large, but only seven homes were evacuated in the Hickory Ridge subdivision. A charter school was closed.

“Right now, we’re working on establishing a perimeter for where the substance is popping up,” explained EGLE spokesperson Jill Greenberg.

In most of the area, the chemicals are being detected at very low levels.

Credit Lester Graham / Michigan Radio
Michigan Radio
Flat Rock Mayor Mark Hammond says a lot of very, very smart people are using sophisticated equipment to track down the source of the chemicals that got into the city's sewer system.

“We’ve been able to narrow the scope of those evacuations to just where there are readings that indicated that they need to not be in those homes,” said Flat Rock Mayor Mark Hammond.

Mayor Hammond says if residents notice an odor in their home, they should immediately leave the house and call Flat Rock's police non-emergency number: 734-782-2496, option 0.

“If you’re ill, we want you to get out of the house right away. Get into fresh air,” Hammond said, adding, “We got it. I want to stress that. Don’t open your windows, or turn off your furnace. Get out.”

Nearby residents just want to know what’s going on.

“We’re just waiting for more information. What is it and where is it coming from?” said Mary Smith, who is a few houses away from homes that have been evacuated.

Credit Lester Graham / Michigan Radio
Michigan Radio

While investigators have detected the benzene and VOCs, they don't know yet what exactly got into the sewer system. They're still tracking down the sources.

“We’re starting to rule out a lot of them, but we still have a few more players that we have to investigate a little bit further,” said Joe DeGrazia with EGLE.

Lester Graham reports for The Environment Report. He has reported on public policy, politics, and issues regarding race and gender inequity. He was previously with The Environment Report at Michigan Public from 1998-2010.
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