Worried residents take action to find out if petcoke on Detroit riverbank is harmful

DETROIT, Mich. (WXYZ) - Huge black mounds that recently started to pile up on the Detroit riverfront have residents worried about potential health risks because they are concerned the piles are toxic.   

When the big black mounds that sit on the riverbanks of southwest Detroit just appeared one day, residents were puzzled.

"One of the biggest concerns when we saw the black piles is what is it, and where is it coming from?" said State Representative Rashida Tlaib (D-Detroit).  She said residents contacted her worried that the black piles could be toxic.

"What does that mean to our fishery? What does that mean to our public health and our environment?" said Rep. Tlaib. She went onto one of the sites and grabbed three bag fulls of the black stuff for testing.

"We sent them off to get tested independently to find out exactly what it means to all of us and our health and our environment," said Rep. Tlaib. She expects the test results to come back next week.

Marathon Petroleum Corporation said the black stuff is petroleum coke also known as petcoke, which is a product of the oil refinery process. 

Marathon produced the petcoke and kept it on their property until someone bought it. A spokesperson for Marathon tells 7 Action News that Koch Minerals LLC bought the petcoke from them and they are the ones storing it on the riverfront. 

Marathon said that since they do not own the petcoke or the property the petcoke sits on, they are not responsible or liable for what is done with it.

"We need to be protected. I'm sorry, this is not acceptable," said Deb Sumner. Sumner lives a half a mile from the petcoke mounds.

"We need to sit with Marathon and they need to be a good corporate neighbor and take initial responsibility for this. They can't just say, oh hands off, I've sold it, it doesn't belong to us anymore," said Sumner.

She worries a lot about the environmental impacts and what the petcoke could mean for her health. She said they are not getting any answers from anyone about whether or not the petcoke is harmful.

"I'm not an environmentalist. But,  trust me. You would not want that a block away from your home," said Sumner.

The spokesperson from Marathon said that petcoke is not toxic. 7 Action News contacted Koch Minerals LLC several times after hours but have not heard back from them yet. Wednesday night is at least the second time we have seen crews working to load the petcoke onto a freighter.

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