Michigan health department, Wayne County recommend evacuation for areas of Flat Rock due to hazardous fumes from gas leak

Community at risk of exposure to high levels of benzene, a chemical considered harmful to human health

Recommended evacuation area expands after gasoline leak at Flat Rock assembly plant
Recommended evacuation area expands after gasoline leak at Flat Rock assembly plant

DETROIT – The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) and Wayne County Health Department (WCHD) are recommending residents of the Flat Rock area bounded by I-75 to the east, Gibraltar Road to the north, Cahill Road to the west and Woodruff Road to the south evacuate their homes until further notice due to the potential risks caused by fumes from a gasoline leak. The source of the leak is a storage tank at Ford Motor Company’s Flat Rock Assembly Plant.

Response teams will go door-to-door immediately beginning Sunday, Sept. 5 in affected areas to ensure residents are informed and receive quick and accurate information about evacuation.

In addition to the smaller geographic area described above, there is a broader area of Flat Rock under investigation for potential exposure. This area is bounded by Gibraltar Road to the north, Sheeks Road to the west, East Huron River Drive to the south, and Tamarack Road to the east, as well as buildings along Woodruff between East Huron River Drive and Cahill Road.

Read more: Recommended evacuation area expands after gasoline leak at Flat Rock assembly plant

“At this time, it is unclear which specific homes might be at risk and it is possible residents in some areas of the potentially impacted area have not been exposed. The City of Flat Rock, WCHD, MDHHS, Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE), the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) continue to work together to understand the potential risks and will update the community as more information is learned,” a statement released by the state on the issue read in part.

The community is at risk of exposure to high levels of benzene, considered a total Volatile Organic Compound (VOC), which can be harmful to human health, according to the state. Measurements of air inside buildings and sewer lines have shown levels of VOCs exceeding health protective and explosive levels, the state added.

Benzene is a flammable and colorless liquid with a sweet odor used to make other chemicals. It is found in gasoline, crude oil and tobacco smoke. Breathing in higher levels of benzene can cause people to feel sleepy or dizzy, have headaches, vomit or have a rapid heart rate. Both long- and short-term exposure to benzene can increase risks of cancer, cause blood problems, and harm the immune system.

“We urge Michiganders in the affected areas to take swift action and evacuate their homes,” said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive and chief deputy for health at MDHHS. “You may not be able to see or smell the vapors that could put your health at risk, and we recommend everyone in the affected area consider relocating until further notice and we can confirm it is safe to return to your homes.”

On Aug. 31, MDHHS received a report regarding a potential release of an unknown chemical into the sewer.

Air sampling conducted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has identified elevated levels of VOCs throughout the Flat Rock sanitary sewer system. “Partners are working to slow the spread of these chemicals and stop further exposure. Continued monitoring will measure the impact of the contamination in the sewer lines throughout Flat Rock,” the state added.

HOW TO GET HELP

If you need assistance with evacuating or relocating call Flat Rock’s hotline at 734-782-2455 and dial extension 6.

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