Ford plant in Flat Rock where gas leak found halts production at least through Friday

Karen Bouffard
The Detroit News

Production at Ford Motor Co.'s Flat Rock Assembly Plant has been halted at least through Friday as the company investigates a gas leak that prompted the evacuation of some city residents, a spokesman said late Monday.

Ford spokesman T.R. Reid said production already was paused as planned for the Labor Day weekend, and officials decided to extend the downtime through this week in order to better focus on the environmental investigation and efforts to support displaced residents. 

Wayne County Executive Warren Evans and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer declared states of emergency in Flat Rock last week due to vapors in the city's sanitary system that prompted health officials to evacuate a school and homes in the area.  

Kory Groetsch of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services points to a map displaying Zone 1, where evacuations were recommended because of the gas leak.

High levels of the industrial chemical benzene had been detected within a 4-square-mile perimeter including the areas south of Vreeland Road, east of Cahill Road, north of Woodruff Road and west of Interstate 75, according to the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy. Gasoline sold in the U.S. contains benzene.

Ford said the company had traced the fumes to a leak in a pipe that carries gasoline used to fuel vehicles built at the plant. The company has been monitoring air quality at the facility and the plant is safe for the small number of the plant's 1,900 workers who remain on duty. 

"There's no safety risk for anybody there. However, some of our folks are among the affected neighbors, they've been evacuated, for example, and right now we have two main priorities," Reid said. "One is correction of the underlying problem, and taking care of folks in the community, so we decided to stick with those priorities." 

Asked when production will resume, Reid said "production down time will be extended through the week and we'll worry about that once we get closer." 

Ford has been securing hotel rooms to house people displaced due to the gas leak, and has been giving them gift cards to pay for food and other costs caused by their evacuation, according to Reid.

"We've got dozens of volunteers from across Ford who've been engaged with the city on a variety of things, from door-to-door alerts to other logistical needs," Reid said.

Fordis also working with the city to establish a community fund to help pay for residents' financial losses associated with the gas leak, Reid said.  

"We don't have details yet on the form it will take," Reid said. "But we've committed so far a million dollars, in addition to these other services, to the community fund, to help cover some of the issues that people have had."

Twitter: @kbouffardDN