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Petroleum coke concerns grow

DETROIT — Mountains of petroleum coke — a byproduct of oil refining from tar sands in Alberta, Canada — have drawn public concern in the southwest Detroit neighborhood where the black mounds have been deposited along the riverfront since late fall.

Wayne Law Professor Nick Schroeck, who is executive director of the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center, joined United States Rep. Gary Peters and others to speak out during a recent press conference on Fort Street, where the three-story-high pet coke mounds piled east and west of the Ambassador Bridge are clearly visible.

The pet coke piles in Detroit raise a number of public health and environmental concerns. The dust that blows off the mounds is “pretty dramatic,” based on photos taken from the Canadian side of the river, Schroeck said.

Also of concern is water runoff into the Detroit River from the uncovered stacks of pet coke, which are expected to be shipped to other countries.

Pet coke can be burned with coal to produce energy, but the process is dirty, and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulations prevent it from being used much in the U.S.

Health studies and permitting processes — federal, state and local — for storing the pet coke seem to be lacking, Schroeck said.

And the issuance of government permits often include public hearings, which to date haven’t been held over the pet coke mounds, he said.

State officials with the Department of Environmental Quality told media that the piles of pet coke don’t pose a “significant” health risk. Schroeck and Peters aren’t convinced.

Peters said he will introduce a bill to have the EPA conduct environmental and health studies, and he cited Delaware regulations that require pet coke to be covered during storage and transport.

Schroeck said that, at the very least, the mountains of pet coke are detrimental to the area’s growing economy and recent efforts to enhance the riverfront for recreation.

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