Detroit warns of possible gas emissions during Marathon repairs

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News
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The Marathon oil refinery in Detroit on Feb. 4, 2019.

Detroit — City officials are warning Friday of possible fume emissions as the Marathon oil refinery repairs a flare system that malfunctioned over the weekend and urging residents who may be sensitive to the odors to stay indoors.

Marathon Petroleum notified city officials that they will continue to conduct air monitoring in nearby communities and will share results with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, U.S. Environment Protection Agency and the City of Detroit's Buildings, Safety, Engineering and Environmental Department.

"We plan to begin repairs to the malfunctioning flare this afternoon," Marathon said in a statement to the city. "As a precautionary measure, we will continue air monitoring for several hours after we de-activate the flare, in case there is any residual gas in the flare during the final de-activation process."

Marathon Petroleum finished the de-activation of the malfunctioning flare Friday afternoon. There were no additional unexpected emissions during the process, officials said.

MDEQ monitors have not indicated that the fumes released on Feb. 1 and 2 resulted in dangerously high levels of toxic substances, the city health department said.

"However, the odors from the facility may cause some people who are very sensitive to odors to have symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, headaches, or difficulty breathing," the city health department said in a statement. "If people are sensitive to those odors, then keeping those odors from entering your home and keeping windows closed will help prevent symptoms from occurring."

Extreme cold is believed to be the cause of a malfunction, which emitting an odor from the plant that sparked public health concerns; however, officials say they won't be able to determine the cause until it is repaired.

The sources of the odor, created by the flare gas system problems, are suspected to be hydrogen sulfide and mercaptan compounds, according to the MDEQ. Both compounds, officials said, have extremely low odor thresholds, meaning they can be smelled even at very low levels.

Marathon officials say they have notified local emergency responders of its repair plan.

Those with any questions or concerns can contact Marathon at (313) 297-6272.
Twitter: @SarahRahal_

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