Bill in Congress seeks health study on pet coke

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News
Gary Peters

Correction: This story has been updated to correct where Marathon Petroleum stores its pet coke, which is at its refinery.

Washington — Two Michigan lawmakers are teaming up on a bill addressing health concerns about the open-air storage of petroleum coke, the byproduct of the crude oil refining process.

The bill, to be introduced Tuesday in Congress, comes as Marathon Petroleum is seeking a variance from a Detroit ordinance that since 2017 has required that pet coke be stored in enclosed containers.

Detroit adopted the restrictions after complaints from residents in southwest Detroit about the mass storage of pet coke in uncovered piles along the Detroit River. Marathon's storage is at its refinery and not along the river. 

The new legislation by U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, and Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit, would require the federal government to study the potential public health risks and environmental impacts posed by petroleum coke exposure.

The bill also calls for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, in consultation with the secretary of Transportation, to draft and implement rules concerning the storage and transportation of pet coke “that ensure the protection of public and ecological health” based upon the study’s results.

“We all remember the pet coke piles along the Detroit River blowing into nearby neighborhoods, coating homes and threatening the health of local residents and our Great Lakes,” Peters said in a statement.

“That’s why I’m reintroducing legislation so that we can better understand the public health and environmental dangers, and require evidence-based standards to be developed to protect Michigan families and our communities.”

Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit

Tlaib, who grew up in southwest Detroit, said residents there deserve the federal government doing its due diligence to protect public health and quality of life.

“We must take action on a national level to create the much needed guidelines on how a carcinogenic toxin like petroleum coke impacts all of us,” she said in a statement.

Peters and Tlaib are introducing the bill with Sen. Dick Durbin and Rep. Robin Kelly, both Democrats from Illinois, where uncovered piles of petroleum coke have been stored in southeast Chicago.

Peters and Durbin in 2015 introduced the same bill. 

It requires the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to conduct an assessment of the public health and environmental impacts of pet coke production and use, and also examine the best practices for storing, transporting and managing the material.