Here’s what inspection records say about underground fuel tank leak in Flat Rock

EGLE says anonymous tip led them to return to Ford assembly plant

Inspectors believe an underground storage tank at the Ford Flat Rock assembly plant is the source of the gas leak.

FLAT ROCK, Mich. – Inspectors believe an underground storage tank at the Ford Flat Rock assembly plant is the source of the gas leak.

The leak was discovered on Wednesday, Sept. 1. The company closed the pipe and said it thought the spill was contained to its property. The spill was not contained to the property.

According to the state fire marshal, that tank was last inspected in 2019 and there were no violations found at the time. The tank was scheduled to be inspected again in December.

Underground storage tanks are inspected every three years in Michigan. There are more than 17,142 underground tanks in Michigan. Those tanks are located on 6,638 facilities or locations. In 2019, the state fire marshal conducted 2,021 tank inspections.

Local 4 Defenders have learned about a visit by an Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) inspector on Sept. 1. The inspector did not find the leak.

“Nothing was observed by inspectors because all visible signs of the leak were underground,” EGLE said in a statement.

Ford later stated that the company found the leak after the inspector left. So why did it take two days for the company to admit full responsibility?

EGLE released the following timeline of events:

  • Aug. 31: Tuesday EGLE receives a report of gas in the sanitary sewer. EGLE responded and began investigating the report, including asking potential sources of the release, including Ford, a nearby gas station, etc. to check their systems for potential problems.
  • Sept. 1: EGLE performed a preemptive walk through of the Ford facility as part of the investigation. Nothing was observed by inspectors because all visible signs of the leak were underground.
  • Sept. 3: An anonymous tip led EGLE to return to Ford. Upon arrival Ford informed EGLE that it had discovered a leak after our inspector had left Wednesday. Roughly about the same time, Ford filed a Pollution Emergency report with EGLE acknowledging the leak. EGLE inspected the facility and confirmed a release at the site. Work began to determine if this was the source. The sanitary sewer manholes, from the tank basin, along the International Drive, to the manhole located at Gibraltar Road and International Drive, were inspected late Thursday providing evidence that the leak was almost certainly the cause of the sewer contamination.
  • Sept. 4: Sewer lines leading from Ford to the municipal sewers were plugged, stopping the leakage into the city sewers.

A Ford spokesperson said the company did alert the authorities on Sept. 1, but felt at the time they were not the source of the problem. After investigating, they realized they were the source and then took responsibility on Sept. 3.

EGLE said that was not the case. Officials said it was an anonymous tip that led EGLE to return to Ford and that’s when the company admitted responsibility for the leak.

Another big question is: How did the spill actually get into the city’s sewer system?

It’s a closed system. Investigators are spending a lot of time trying to figure that out.

Read: Complete Local 4 Defenders coverage



About the Authors:

Karen Drew is the anchor of Local 4 News First at 4, weekdays at 4 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. She is also an award-winning investigative reporter and part of the Local 4 Defenders team.

Kayla is a Web Producer for ClickOnDetroit. Before she joined the team in 2018 she worked at WILX in Lansing as a digital producer.