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Stakeholders respond to oil vapor leak at Marathon in Southwest Detroit

Marathon responds, issues statement

DETROIT – Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, D-13th District, released a statement regarding a recent incident at the Marathon Oil Refinery in Detroit.

On Thursday, an oil vapor leak caused road closures around the refinery. As a result nearby workers had to be evacuated.

Related: Detroit residents want answers after leak at Marathon Refinery, rally planned 

"Marathon is a prime example of corporate polluters continuing to choose profit over safeguards for our public health. It is time to say enough is enough of Marathon's constant disregard of the health and safety of residents who live, work, and visit the surrounding communities. Marathon has perpetrated numerous incidents detrimental to our communities and must be held accountable – they clearly cannot be trusted to protect our health. I look forward to discussing the need to hold Marathon and other entities who poison our community accountable and solutions to make our communities breathe and live free at the upcoming congressional field hearing I am hosting with other members of Congress, experts, and grassroots activists here in Detroit," Tlaib said. 

The congressional field hearing on air and water quality that was scheduled before this incident will take place on Monday, Sept. 16, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. at Kemeny Recreation Center in Detroit on South Fort Street.

Tlaib, the vice hair of the House Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on Environment, will be hosting the hearing.

In February another incident happened at the plant that left nearby residents frustrated. In February strong odors from the plant could be smelled across the region. The strong odors caused residents to experience various illnesses, according to Tlaib's office. 

Read more: Marathon confirms foul gas odor is from its Detroit refinery

Then last October a large flaring event occurred due to the burn off of excessive gas and liquids. In 2017 an EPA violation resulted in a $62,000 fine for the company, Tlaib's office added.

For decades residents living in Wayne County's polluted zip codes have been fighting for environmental justice. Vincent Martin is one of them. 

"We need Marathon and our elected officials to be quicker in responding to these emergencies. I started receiving calls from my neighbors way before I ever received a single call from Marathon or officials," said Martin, a community activist and native of southwest Detroit's 48217 zip code, Michigan's most polluted, according to environmental scientists at the University of Michigan.  

Justin Onwenu, a Detroit resident and environmental justice organizer with the Sierra Club Detroit office also weighed in on the issue. 

"The frequent foul smells that people are forced to breathe are bad enough, but Marathon is placing peoples' health at severe risk time and time again and our elected officials must hold them accountable," said Onwenu.

"Governor Whitmer, Mayor Duggan, and other official's number one priority should be protecting our communities. Protecting our communities means that EGLE should issue a fine that is more than a slap on the wrist, it means examining emergency response systems to better protect residents and it means conducting health impact assessments in the immediate aftermath of these events. Governor Whitmer needs to be as aggressive in fighting environmental racism in Detroit as she is against e cigarette products."

Marathon issued a statement regarding the incident. Read the full statement here: 

"As an integral part of Southwest Detroit for 60 years, Marathon Petroleum welcomes ongoing discussions about the air quality in our community. We regret the unintentional release of vapor that occurred yesterday and apologize for any inconveniences this may have caused in the local community. Air quality monitoring immediately after the release confirms no breach of safe emission levels.  
 
Marathon holds the safety and health of our employees, contractors and neighbors as our highest priority. When the incident occurred, Marathon immediately deployed mobile air monitoring resources in addition to permanent fixed monitors located around our site and in the community. Those devices showed there were no breaches of air quality safety levels in the community. We continued to utilize our mobile monitors for several hours after the event received an all-clear, to further ensure that no impacts to air quality had occurred. 

Throughout the incident Marathon refinery personnel worked with nearly a dozen local, state and federal officials at multiple government agencies.
 
We have undertaken a thorough investigation of this incident, with local resources supported by corporate experts, to understand and address any necessary operational and safety changes. Our record for improving the air quality of this neighborhood is unequaled, having invested more than $350 million since 2014 alone in enhancements to our Detroit Refinery. By doing so, we have reduced emissions from the refinery by 80 percent over the past decade. These investments have improved the air quality in southwest Detroit for all. 
 
Marathon Petroleum welcomes open and transparent engagement with our neighbors and all Southwest Detroit stakeholders. We are ready to listen and answer any questions about this incident and our extensive safety protocols."


About the Authors:

Natasha Dado

Natasha Dado is a digital content producer for ClickOnDetroit.

Larry Spruill

Larry Spruill Jr. joined the Local 4 News team in january 2018. He grew up as a military kid because his father is a retired Chief of the United States Air Force. Larry graduated from Valdosta State University in Georgia with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Mass Media. Before coming to Detroit, he worked at WJAX in Jacksonville, Florida.