Ethylene Oxide/Sterigenics Updates

Benzene Leak at Ford’s Flat Rock Plant Prompts Evacuations

ford-2691853_1920-1-300x209Recent news reports have revealed that a benzene leak at Ford’s Assembly Plant in Flat Rock, Michigan has contaminated the sewers in a 4-square-mile—and possibly larger—area of the city. As a result of the benzene leak, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) is recommending that residents who live in the area bounded by I-75 to the east, Gibraltar Road to the north, Cahill Road to the west, and Woodruff Road south, evacuate until further notice. Initially, 10 homes and one school were evacuated, but now, because it is unclear which homes may be at risk, the MDHHS is recommending that the entire neighborhood evacuate.

Why Should Residents Evacuate?

Residents may be at risk of exposure to high levels of benzene, a volatile organic compound (VOC), which can be harmful to human health. Measurements of air in buildings and sewer lines have shown that VOC levels exceed health-protective and explosive levels.

The MDHHS is also investigating whether the vapors from the leak pose a risk to residents of a larger area bounded by Gibraltar Road to the north, Sheeks Road to the west, East Huron River Drive to the south, and Tamarack Road to the east. Residents of this area who are concerned about exposure may wish to evacuate until more information is available.

What Happened?

The  MDHHS received a report about a possible release of a volatile organic compound (VOC) into the Flat Rock sewer system on August 31st. Subsequent air sampling conducted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) confirmed the presence of harmful vapors in the sewer. The source of the leak, a storage tank at Ford’s Flat Rock plant, allegedly leaked thousands of gallons of benzene into the sewer before it was discovered.

What Do We Recommend?

We recommend that residents take this situation seriously. Benzene is a highly flammable, carcinogenic, and dangerous chemical. Please listen to the local officials and the health department. If they are recommending that you evacuate, please do so to limit your exposure to benzene.

What is Benzene?

Benzene-300x198Benzene is a clear, colorless-to-light yellow flammable liquid that has a sweet, aromatic odor. Benzene is a volatile organic compound made mostly from petroleum. It can be found in gasoline, car exhaust, and cigarette smoke. It can also be used to manufacture dyes, detergents, pesticides, plastics, and a host of other items.

The main way people are exposed to the chemical is by breathing air containing benzene. Benzene in groundwater or sewers can turn into a gas, migrate up through the soil or pipes and enter the air in people’s homes, exposing the residents to benzene vapor contamination.

How Can Benzene Affect Your Health?

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), have concluded that benzene is carcinogenic to humans, given sufficient exposure. Scientific studies have linked benzene exposure to an increased risk of cancer in humans. Specifically, there is evidence linking benzene exposure to the following cancers:

  • Acute Myelogenous Leukemia
  • Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma
  • Multiple Myeloma
  • Acute lymphocytic leukemia
  • Chronic lymphocytic leukemia
  • Childhood leukemia

There is also evidence linking benzene exposure to the following health problems:

  • Aplastic Anemia
  • Excessive Bleeding
  • Ventricular Fibrillation
  • Thrombocytopenia
  • Pancytopenia ( a reduction in red and white blood cells and platelets)
  • Myeloblastic Dysplasia
  • Bone Marrow Dysplasia
  • Miscarriage

What Are the Symptoms of Benzene Exposure?

Symptoms of benzene exposure include:

  • Skin Irritation
  • Eye Irritation
  • Headache
  • Lightheadedness
  • Dizziness
  • Sleepiness
  • Confusion
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Impaired Gait
  • Blurred Vision
  • Tremors
  • Convulsions
  • Rapid Heart Rate
  • Respiratory Depression
  • Accumulation of Fluid in Lungs
  • Hemorrhagic Inflammation of the Lungs
  • Loss of Consciousness
  • Coma
  • Death

What Should You Do?

If you believe that your house is contaminated with benzene vapors, please evacuate. Ford is offering hotel rooms and gift cards to displaced residents. Call the MDHHS and ask for the air in your home to be tested by the EPA. If you believe you have been exposed to benzene, or if you have experienced any of the symptoms of benzene exposure, speak to your doctor and stay out of any potentially contaminated areas.  If you need assistance with evacuation and/or relocation, please call Flat Rock’s hotline at 734-782-2455, ext. 6.

The Collins Law Firm is a nationally recognized environmental firm that has been representing the victims of toxic contamination for over two decades. We have been selected as a Best Law Firm in Illinois by U.S. News & World Report. Our environmental lawyers are regularly selected as Super Lawyers, Best Lawyers in America, Leading Lawyers, and Top 100 Trial Lawyers. We believe that great lawyers give a voice to the people who have none.

For more information, read our blog called What You Need to Know About Benzene

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