Pet coke piles on Detroit's riverfront gain national attention

Pet coke piles on Detroit's riverfront gain national attention

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A large pile of petcoke in Detroit. A large pile of petcoke in Detroit.
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DETROIT (WJBK) -

The mountains of petroleum coke along Detroit's riverfront continue to grow, trucked in from the Marathon oil refinery.

The coal-like substance, a by-product of tar sands oil refining, is the property of the Koch brothers' Koch Carbon and stored there by Detroit Bulk Storage before being shipped away.

The piles still aren't covered, and Detroit Bulk never even got a permit to dump this stuff along the Detroit River. Now the story is going national.

"Piles of petroleum coke three stories tall and city block wide," said Congressman Gary Peters, speaking on the House floor. "In Detroit it sits uncovered and uncontained waiting to blow into the air and water. These piles of petroleum coke are a blight on our communities and could pose a threat to the environment and public health."

Meanwhile, Comedy Central's "The Daily Show" picked up our pet coke story from last month. However, it's no laughing matter for Detroiters who live here and fish here right next to the mess.

"This type of toxic mountains are absolutely a public health and safety risk. There's no doubt about it," said southwest Detroit resident Deb Sumner.

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality has said there does not appear to be any significant public health risk, but another lab analysis showed that may not be the case.

The Ecology Center based in Ann Arbor is concerned about toxic metals selenium and vanadium in water runoff and dust. There are no air monitors within a mile of the area, and until the piles are at least covered and contained, there's no way to say they're safe.

"It's unacceptable. It's deplorable," Sumner said.

City Council is working on legal action to remove the pet coke from the two sites -- one on property owned by billionaire Matty Moroun and leased to Norfolk Southern and the other the property of the Wayne County Port Authority and leased to Nicholson Dock.

But for now, no permit, no problem, as big companies with big money use Detroit as their dumping ground.

"This is so wrong," Sumner said. "No permits. This should not be happening at the riverfront."

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