Dingell, Tlaib question DEQ, EPA on Detroit ‘rotten egg’ smell

    Marathon Petroleum Co., Detroit | Wikimedia Commons

    U.S. Reps. Debbie Dingell (D-Dearborn) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Detroit) are asking state and federal environmental regulators for information about a rotten-egg odor in southwest Detroit caused by a malfunction at the Marathon Detroit refinery.

    Rashida Tlaib | Kane Farabaugh, Wikimedia Commons

    Dingell and Tlaib wrote in a letter to Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) Director Liesl Eichler Clark and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler that the smell has raised “serious concerns” among residents. Their action is despite assurances from Marathon and the state that the foul odor does not signal harmful pollutants.

    However, southwest Detroit residents have complained of nausea and dizziness, according to the letter, which asks for information detailing what went wrong.

    “It is critical the public has a full understanding of what happened and the exact steps each of your agencies will be taking to keep the public safe and informed moving forward,” wrote Dingell and Tlaib.“The residents of Southwest Detroit, Dearborn, and Downriver hold us all responsible for protecting these Michigan communities.”

    Debbie Dingell | Flickr

    The letter asks the DEQ and EPA about air quality monitoring practices and information on “what additional actions … EPA and MDEQ [are] taking to ensure that any potential harmful air pollutants do not affect families who live in surrounding communities.”

    It also notes that DEQ has said the smell does not indicate the presence of harmful air contaminants, but asks for additional information.

    Last month, Tlaib questioned DEQ assurances regarding air quality safety.

    Marathon has said the smell is not harmful and apologized to residents. The company and the DEQ have said it was caused by a malfunction in its coke-flare system, which released hydrogen sulfide and mercaptan compounds into the air.

    DEQ spokesman Scott Dean declined to comment on the letter and said the department “will respond directly to the legislators.”

    Liesl Eichler Clark

    In late February, the department served an air quality violation notice to Marathon over the issue, but still maintains the smell is — while bothersome — not harmful.

    The violation found the odors “constitute an unreasonable interference with the comfortable enjoyment of life and property” and said the company’s coke-flare system was not being properly operated.

    Michael Gerstein
    Michael Gerstein covers the governor’s office, criminal justice and the environment. Before that, he wrote about state government and politics for the Detroit News, the Associated Press and MIRS News and won a Society of Professional Journalism award for open government reporting. He studied philosophy at Michigan State University, where he wrote for both The State News and Capital News Service. He began his journalism career freelancing for The Sturgis Journal, his hometown paper.

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