Michigan orders Marathon refinery to pay fines, improve air quality in Southwest Detroit


Marathon Petroleum Co. - STEVE NEAVLING
  • Steve Neavling
  • Marathon Petroleum Co.

Marathon Petroleum Co. will cough up nearly $540,000 in fines and community investments in Southwest Detroit under a consent order with state environmental regulators over multiple air quality violations.

The Michigan Department of Environmental, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) reached an agreement with Marathon on the consent order this week. The oil giant failed to demonstrate compliance with its renewable operating permit, as well as state and federal air quality rules and regulations, according to EGLE. The violations occurred between September 2017 and June 2019.

Marathon is among numerous chemical-spewing facilities in 48217, the most polluted ZIP code in Michigan, which Metro Times featured in a cover story about environmental racism in January.

The order requires the oil giant to pay $282,000 to install an air filtration system at Mark Tain Schools for Scholars and create a website to provide real-time data on air quality around the sprawling, 250-acre refinery. The website will provide data on carbon monoxide, particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, total reduced sulfur, and volatile organic compounds.

Marathon must also pay nearly $82,000 in fines for violations that include a gas flare malfunction that released hydrogen sulfide and mercaptan vapor that blanketed the area in a nauseating stench. At the time, residents complained of vomiting, troubled or labored breathing, and irritated eyes and throats.

The oil company also exceeded limits for particulate matter, hydrogen sulfide, and visible emissions.

The agreement involved input from residents and the Sierra Club, which has long played an active role in reducing air pollution in the community.

"Whether it's high rates of asthma and cancer or poorer school performance, pollution has a devastating cost," Justin Onwenu, a Sierra Club organizer who worked to secure the agreement, tells Metro Times in a statement. "When polluters place the health and well-being of nearby communities in harm's way, they must be held accountable and resources must be directed to impacted communities. While there is a lot more work to do, this agreement is a great step in the right direction because every single student deserves to learn in a healthy environment."

Lifelong resident Theresa Landrum, who also worked on the agreement, applauded the order and pledged to continue fighting for environmental justice.

“This is actually one of Marathon’s first agreements with the state that will send direct community benefits to Michigan’s most polluted ZIP code,” Landrum tells Metro Times.“So we are definitely excited for this community win and we will continue to fight to ensure pollution and release events are stopped before they happen.”

In December, Marathon announced it’s offering to spend up to $5 million buying homes in the Boynton neighborhood to create a buffer between the refinery and residential areas closest to I-75. The company is also working with the Detroit Land Bank Authority to buy or lease 38 abandoned homes and about 140 vacant lots, with plans to demolish the houses and maintain the vacant land.

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