Near refinery’s hum, neighbors cry: Get us out of here

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

Detroit — Dozens of demonstrators gathered Thursday at the Marathon Petroleum refinery in a bid to convince the company to relocate all who want to relocate over concerns about pollution.


“They are our personal polluters,” said Wendy Kyles, who attributes her late relatives’ ailments to emissions from the site. “So they should do us a personal favor and get us out of here.”

Marathon officials on Thursday said it created a buyout program allowing some residents to sell their homes during the refinery’s expansion, which was completed in 2012.

Of 294 properties identified, 266 owners participated, The Detroit News reported. But the targeted homes were in Oakwood Heights, northeast of Marathon’s operation, and protestors claim the company ignored other areas.


Residents protest at the Marathon refinery in Detroit on Thursday. They want the company to relocate homeowners near the refinery.

Marathon offered the purchase program because the expansion “moved its fence line closer to that neighborhood, which was a residential island surrounded on all sides by industry and the Rouge River,” spokesman Jamal Kheiry said in a statement.

“Property in the Boynton neighborhood, on the other side of I-75 from the refinery, was covered under the city of Detroit’s ‘Neighborhood Stabilization Program 2’ funding; our program focused on the area that was not included in that program, and was directly adjacent to the refinery.”

The company does not have plans for another buyout program at this time, Kheiry said.

Some neighbors who spoke out Thursday want more action, arguing Marathon selected an area they believe isn’t affected as much.

“Everyday the pollution comes into our house,” said Anthony Parker, who grew up nearby and moved back about a decade ago.

Built in 1930 and bought by Marathon in 1959, the refinery is part of what’s considered one of largest industrial operations in the state.

Those who live around the facility near Interstate 75 long have complained about pollutants and raised concerns about health problems they believe are associated. University of Michigan researchers have labeled ZIP code 48217, which includes the area around the plant, the state’s most polluted.

Thursday’s gathering comes weeks after the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously ruled that a district court was wrong when it determined that residents’ claims of injury due to harmful air pollution from the oil giant fell past the statute of limitations.

After public outcry about a proposal that would allow Marathon to increase plant emissions, state officials last year moved to reduce emissions by approving two new air permits that reduced the amount of sulfur dioxide that can be released. The changes were required under new U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standards.

Under a pact struck between Marathon and the U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the company also agreed to take steps to reduce sulfur dioxide emissions by 28 tons per year. That level was expected to drop by another 7 tons a year beginning in 2019.

Company officials also agreed to eventually cease operating a flare, a device designed to burn off flammable gases, at the edge of its property near Schaefer.

“Marathon Petroleum Company’s Detroit refinery has reduced its emissions by 76 percent over the last several years, and now — in the heavily industrialized area of Southwest Detroit within a two-mile radius of the refinery — our facility comprises just 3 percent of the EPA-defined criteria air pollutants in the area,” Kheiry said Thursday.

But to those living in the plant’s shadow, that percentage “is 100 because we’re directly downwind of it and it fills our houses every day and every night,” said resident Emma Lockridge, an environmental justice organizer with Michigan United who long has worked to highlight the issue.

Joining her at the event Thursday was Rachel Cabell, who has lived nearby for more than 30 years and notices how the air quality seems to improve with distance. She hopes Marathon addresses residents’ concerns and works to compensate them.

“They’re not doing anything to understand where the people are coming from,” she said. “If you live it every day, you can relate.”