Flat Rock's Zone 2 'clear' of impact in gas leak; residents can return home

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

Residents in one of the Flat Rock areas affected by a gasoline leak from a Ford Motor Co. assembly plant can return home, officials announced Monday night.

The Wayne County Health Department and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services have determined the city's Zone 2 "is clear of any impact" from the leak. Residents weren't forced to leave Zone 2, but could if they worried about their health. 

The section runs from Gibraltar Road to the north, Sheeks Road to the west, East Huron River Drive to the south and Tamarack to the east, as well as buildings along Woodruff between East Huron River Drive and Cahill Road. It includes 635 homes, Wayne County officials said. 

Flat Rock evacuation areas

It was an area officials "believed needed further investigation of potential chemical exposure, but that the risk didn’t warrant an evacuation recommendation," state and county representatives said Monday. Instead, residents were urged to leave if they did not feel comfortable staying during a probe.

“I know evacuation has been a hardship for many Flat Rock residents, but it was critical that health experts took the time to collect and analyze sufficient data so that residents can have peace of mind returning to and remaining in their homes,” Wayne County Chief Operating Officer Genelle Allen said in a statement. “Our team has worked closely with the MDHHS, the EPA, the City of Flat Rock and other agencies to protect residents’ health and safety.”

The state health department and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reviewed data from 12 houses that initially had elevated benzene levels or gasoline odors to confirm sewer testing can be used to validate air levels are below health levels, according to the release.  

Officials compared the indoor air quality data in the 12 homes with test results for sewer lines and "confirmed gasoline-related sewer vapors were substantially prevented from entering the indoor air of those homes," the release stated. "Based on extensive sewer gas testing throughout Zone 2 and the 12-home confirmatory data, MHDDS concluded that the indoor air of other homes in Zone 2 will not be at risk of being impacted from benzene or other gasoline-related chemicals now that the gasoline release has been stopped."

Ford continues to provide families in Zone 1 and 2 with hotel accommodations. That includes residents in Zone 2 who requested home testing and still await written results, officials said Monday.

Residents needing accommodations can call (734) 782-2455, extension 1105.

Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, Michigan chief medical executive, said she welcomed news of the Zone 2 clearance.

“Our team will continue to work hard along with our partners from state, local and federal agencies as we assess screening and monitoring data from Zone 1 swiftly and thoroughly," she said. "Out of an abundance of caution, our recommendation to Zone 1 residents is that they remain evacuated until we know from the data that they can return home.”

Zone 1 stretches from Interstate 75 to the east, Gibraltar Road to the north, Cahill Road to the west and Woodruff to the south.

Overall, there were about 1,200 evacuations after a gas-like odor was first complained about by residents on Aug. 30. It was eventually traced to an underground pipe at Ford's Flat Rock Assembly Plant.

The automaker also said last week that it appears the leak of 1,400 gallons of gasoline started no earlier than Aug. 26.

Ford says regular air quality monitoring has confirmed the plant is safe for employees and others to be on site.

Operations at the plant resumed Monday after a shutdown.

The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy said dye testing in Ford’s sewer had pinpointed a compromised manhole structure where it is believed gasoline entered the sewer system. 

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is using a TAGA mobile lab to analyze air quality in homes in the Flat Rock area that may have been affected by a recent Ford Motor Co. gasoline leak from its Flat Rock assembly plant.

The leak has been stopped and government officials said Wednesday that gasoline no longer appeared in local sewers.

Ford said last week that it is decommissioning all underground gasoline piping and replacing it with above-ground piping before restarting any fuel-filling operations at the plant.

Meanwhile, the automaker has said it would send $500 checks to every household affected by the leak.