Residents speak out on Marathon emissions plan

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

Residents sounded off Wednesday night against a proposal that would allow Marathon Petroleum’s massive southwest Detroit operation to increase plant emissions.

To show Michigan Department of Environmental Quality officials how much the Marathon refinery near her Detroit home affects people’s health, Emma Lockridge held up a white medical mask.

During a public hearing Wednesday, the longtime resident -- who vehemently opposes the company’s request -- told state officials she shields her face at night “because the odors are so strong, I get tired of putting the pillows, covers over my head.

“Your numbers mean nothing to us,” Lockridge said to applause from a crowd of more than 300 in the River Rouge High School auditorium. “We deserve to live. Stop killing us, stop killing us, stop killing us.”

Hundreds of concerned residents and others affected by the plant packed the school Wednesday night for the meeting, which sought input from the public on Marathon’s proposal to release additional sulfur dioxide and other pollutants into the air. Company officials have said the change is needed to meet new federal cleaner fuel standards. Release levels will remain below what is permitted by law, they said.

Marathon’s proposed changes include installing a new process heater and reactor so the company can produce lower sulfur gasoline complying with federal standards, according to documents handed out at the meeting. It also would install eight liquefied petroleum gas storage tanks.

Comments on the plan will be accepted through Jan. 29, and another public meeting is planned, said Lynn Fiedler, air quality division chief with the DEQ. The state agency can deny, approve or change and approve the permit.

Public perspective “helps shape the decision and makes sure their voices are heard,” Fiedler said before the meeting.

But many attendees feared their concerns would be rejected.

“We’re just rubber-stamping something that has already been decided,” said Kenneth Tolbert, who lives about a mile from the refinery.

Others cited a host of issues they attributed to the plant — including asthmatic symptoms, irritated eyes, dark matter coating yards and sidewalks.

“All this stuff is happening around here in this area,” said Johnny Haynes of Detroit. "Lives matter. What is your decision based on? ... I invite you to come live here in this area, just two weeks, 24 hours a day, to see what’s going on in this area.”

Others called for more studies and worried about potential disasters.

“We don’t want to be another Flint River,” Detroiter Theresa Landrum said, referring to problems with lead in drinking water that occurred during oversight by state environmental officials.

In information distributed at the meeting Wednesday, MDEQ officials said there are air monitoring stations around the facility. The DEQ’s air quality division review, using computer models to compare proposed emissions to state and federal standards, found those discharges “are not expected to cause harm to anyone.”

The fact sheet also said data from the Michigan Air Emission Reporting System indicated Marathon’s sulfur dioxide emissions dropped from 265 tons in 2013 to about 211 tons in 2014.

But many hearing participants questioned the findings and pointed to statistics Detroit health officials provided showing the zip code that is home to the refinery is the most polluted in Michigan.

“This is just a travesty to even think some of the things that I can’t pronounce are being put into the atmosphere that our children, our adults, our seniors, our working people are consuming, breathing into their lungs,” said Eric Pate, chief of staff for State Sen. Bert Johnson, D-Highland Park.