Michigan orders Ford to probe gas leak and offer daily updates

Hani Barghouthi
The Detroit News

Flat Rock — The state has ordered Ford Motor Co. to conduct a thorough investigation of the gasoline leak from its plant last week and provide daily updates, authorities said.

The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) also said it was processing Ford’s request to authorize the use of dye for dye-testing its sewer piping as part of the investigation. The dye may help determine exactly what route the gasoline took to enter Flat Rock's municipal sewer system, the statement said, and inform measures to prevent such an incident from occurring again.

A contractor for the EPA monitors a sewer on Gibraltar Road in Flat Rock on Sept. 3. An investigation into a leak from a Ford Motor Co. storage tank remains ongoing.

The ongoing testing for gas showed no or trace amounts in the sewage system on Thursday evening, according to an update from the State Emergency Operations Center.

The notice came a week after reports of odors from Flat Rock's sewer system led to a discovery that an estimated 1,400 gallons of unleaded gasoline, which contains benzene, leaked into the system from a storage tank at the automaker's assembly plant in the city, sparking fears and mass evacuations.

As a result of the leak and over the past week, some 1,100 nearby homes were evacuated while equipment was shipped to Michigan for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to test the sewer system. 

Ford said on Thursday that it would continue to provide hotel accommodations for displaced residents until they’re able to return to their homes, as well as distribute Meijer or Target gift cards to affected residents on Thursday and Friday at the ball field adjacent to Flat Rock City Hall.

It also will establish a reimbursement fund for costs the residents may have incurred. 

The EPA continued to conduct air sampling at public manholes on Thursday using the Trace Atmosphere Gas Analyzer (TAGA) mobile laboratory that arrived in Michigan this week. The agency established five circuits with 30 manholes to monitor the sanitary sewer system.

Since the incident first was reported on Aug. 31, the EPA said it had conducted sampling with handheld air monitoring equipment at 68 homes, five schools and several businesses. TAGA air sampling at homes is set to begin this weekend. 

EPA is performing ambient air monitoring around the schools three times a day and said it had already taken 4,300 measurements. Initial results from River Heights Academy were above screening levels, and results from laboratory testing were still pending Thursday. 

Other schools in the city, including Simpson Middle, John M Barnes Elementary, Flat Rock High and Bobcean Elementary, did not show elevated readings for benzene vapors.