Ford extends Flat Rock plant downtime amid gas leak recovery efforts, plans facility upgrades

Jordyn Grzelewski
The Detroit News

Ford Motor Co. will not resume full production at its Flat Rock Assembly Plant — the source of a gasoline leak into the city's sewer system that was discovered two weeks ago — until next week.

The Dearborn automaker had halted production at the Mustang plant through at least the end of last week, but company spokesperson Kelli Felker confirmed Monday that downtime there has been extended until Sept. 20 "to ensure all resources remain focused on the Flat Rock community."

The TAGA (Trace Atmospheric Gas Analyzer) mobile lab will be used to analyze homes in the Flat Rock area that were affected by the recent Ford Motor Co. chemical leak.

We're offering a great deal on all-access subscriptions. Check it out here.

The spill, detected Aug. 30 and later that week tied to a fuel leak at the Ford facility, resulted in the evacuation of more than 1,000 homes and prompted state and county officials to declare a state of emergency.

Ford officials say the plant has been deemed safe through regular air quality monitoring. However, Felker said, "We want to be sure all external resources remain focused on returning Flat Rock community residents to their homes as quickly as possible. At the same time, we are upgrading our facility to help ensure this does not happen again."

The automaker said it has repaired the leaking pipe and removed gasoline from a storage tank so no more can escape. It also is decommissioning all underground gasoline piping and replacing it with above-ground piping.

Felker said the project is "being reviewed and approved" by the Underground Storage Tank Division of Michigan's Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs "and will be completed before restarting any fuel-filling operations at the plant."

"We are also evaluating whether any additional changes are needed in our system and operations to remove the potential for this leak path from occurring again," she said.

LARA spokesperson Suzanna Thelen confirmed that the agency's bureau of fire services is working with the automaker. The agency last week red-tagged, or locked, the fuel system where the leak originated, she said. It's up to Ford to determine how to correct the issue, but the changes will be subject to an inspection by the bureau before it allows Ford to resume use of the fuel system.

Meanwhile, Flat Rock Mayor Mark Hammond said Friday that homes in the city still were being tested for contaminants. An Environmental Protection Agency mobile laboratory was brought in last week to test for harmful vapors in the city's sewers, homes and buildings.

Twitter: @JGrzelewski

Staff Writer Charles E. Ramirez contributed.