Gov. Whitmer declares emergency in Flat Rock, Wayne, Monroe counties over hazardous fumes

Lansing — Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer declared a state of emergency for the City of Flat Rock and Wayne and Monroe counties Thursday night as authorities investigate the source of hazardous fumes in the city's sewer system.

The governor's office said "high levels of an unknown gas" had been discovered in the city sewer system and nearby homes. Through the declaration, the governor has made available state resources in cooperation with local response efforts, according to a statement. Wayne County Executive Warren Evans had asked Whitmer to declare a state of emergency in Flat Rock as a way to speed up cleanup and investigation.

Tricia Edwards of the EPA speaks during a press conference in Flat Rock on Friday, Sept. 3, 2021 about a suspected chemical leak in the city's sewer system.

"My top priority is ensuring that every resource is available to the City of Flat Rock, Wayne County and Monroe County to determine where the odor originated, so that we can clean up the affected area and prevent further harm," Whitmer said. "I’m grateful to the leadership in the City of Flat Rock, Wayne County, Monroe County and all of the first responders who have been on the ground keeping people safe."

The situation does not affect drinking water in the southern Wayne County community of 10,000, the county said in a statement. Evans declared a state of emergency on Wednesday evening. The odor was first discovered Monday, according to Evans' order.

County officials said they are still trying to "identify this flammable substance and locate its source."

"Out of an abundance of caution," the county said, River Heights Academy and four homes were evacuated. Kids weren't at the school at the time, the county said.

The smell was noticed in the Hickory Ridge subdivision, south of Vreeland, east of Telegraph. Flat Rock officials, Wayne County hazardous waste staff, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the state of Michigan were all at the site Thursday.

Whitmer's declaration said Flat Rock "experienced a hazardous materials emergency in the form of an unknown odor, posing a serious health

and safety threat to residents." The leak has the "potential to be explosive," the declaration said.

"Hazmat teams have worked around the clock to evacuate impacted areas and to find the source of the fumes," the governor's office said Thursday night.

In a Thursday letter to Whitmer, state Sen. Erika Geiss, D-Taylor, Democratic Caucus chairwoman, and House Energy Chairman Joe Bellino, R-Monroe, joined the county in a call for the governor to declare an emergency.

In the statement from the governor's office, U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn, said the Flat Rock community "should be able to go to sleep tonight knowing that their homes and businesses remain safe, and that clean-up efforts are already under way."

Mark Hammond, mayor of Flat Rock, speaks during a press conference on Friday, Sept. 3, 2021 about a suspected chemical leak in the city's sewer system.

"As we rapidly begin clean-up efforts, I thank the EPA, Gov. Whitmer and our partners on the ground for working quickly to enact this state of emergency to get our community the resources they need now," Dingell said.

Flat Rock residents who smell gasoline odors in their homes should call 734-782-2496, the county said.

People in other communities who smell gasoline should call 911.