Evacuation recommendation lifted for part of Flat Rock

A group of voluntarily evacuated residents of Flat Rock have been cleared by Wayne County and State health officials to return home – while another part of town is still affected by noxious fumes in the sanitary sewer system from a fuel spill at the nearby Ford assembly plant. awaits a word on when residents can safely return.

Mayor Mark Hammond, in a letter to residents posted to the city’s Facebook page on Tuesday, said the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and the Wayne County Department of Public Health released Monday night information on the analysis of houses and sewers in “Zone 2,” an area of ​​the city bounded by Gibraltar Road to the north, Huron River Drive to the south and west, and Tamarack Drive to the south and east.

“Based on these results, any gasoline vapor remaining in the Zone 2 sewers from the gasoline release reported on September 1 is not expected to harm human health, as contamination levels in the sanitary sewers are below levels that could lead to an indoor hazard, ”Hammond said.

But the wait continues for residents of “Zone 1”, a part of over 3 square miles of the city between Gibraltar, Cahill and Woodruff roads and I-75, where benzene and other chemicals have been released. been detected in sewers and in homes with high, flammable levels around Labor Day weekend.

Hammond said Zone 1 is divided into 15 segments “to facilitate data analysis” and that a process similar to that used to clean Zone 2, testing the quality of indoor air in homes and in the sanitary sewer system, will be used to clean Zone 1 segment by segment. The results of this analysis are still pending, he said.

In a letter to Wayne County health worker on Monday, Carol Austerberry, the director of the toxicology and assessment section of the state’s health department, Marcus Wasilevich, expressed confidence in the agency in zone 2 security.

“The gasoline discharge has been monitored, the sanitary sewer lines have been flushed and the sampling data indicates that the concentrations of site-related contaminants in the sanitary sewers in Zone 2 are all below sanitary screening levels. applicable, ”he said.

But some residents of Zone 2, although eager to return home, had reservations about the announcement of the green light.

Walter Dudzinski, who lives in Zone 2, was evacuated from his Walnut Street home with his wife and two sons, aged 13 and 10, when the recommendation was made on September 4. He believed that the air inside their house would be tested before any return authorization was granted. would be issued.

“They haven’t called us yet to tell us that they are going to test our house yet,” he said. “We kind of wonder how they extrapolate something that we thought was supposed to be on a case-by-case basis.”

Autumn Bousquette, a Zone 2 evacuee who lives on Aspen Drive, had similar concerns.

“How can you tell you’re okay when you haven’t even been to some houses? General advice doesn’t work for me at all.”

According to a United States Environmental Protection Agency webpage devoted to its response to Flat Rock, the agency has so far sampled 31 homes and businesses and five schools in Flat Rock, using its mobile atmospheric trace gas analyzer laboratory (TAGA). He completed the analysis of 26 samples taken from 11 residences, all showing readings of benzene and other volatile organic compounds below federal action levels. The EPA says it has also taken samples from 94 sanitary sewer locations in Zones 1 and 2, and continues to monitor.

A Flat Rock Our Hometown sign hangs at the Flat Rock Community Fields in Flat Rock on Thursday, September 16, 2021.

In a letter to Hammond on Monday, Austerberry responded to the question raised by residents, saying “it would take months to test the air in hundreds of homes.”

Instead, with the approval of the state health department and the Federal Agency for the Registry of Poisons and Diseases, investigators “used a scientific method to estimate indoor air levels.” in homes on the basis of sewer testing.

“The team used data from several homes in Flat Rock that initially had high levels of benzene or gasoline smells inside their homes to confirm that sewer testing can be used to validate that the air levels in homes are lower than health levels. “

City officials detected benzene and fumes at flammable levels in the city’s sanitary sewer system and in the homes of some residents on August 30 and 31. On September 1, staff at Ford’s Flat Rock Assembly Plant discovered a fuel leak in the underground system used to add unleaded gasoline to manufactured cars.

On the evening of September 4, Wayne County and State health officials recommended that residents in two areas of the city consider evacuating their homes because of the benzene and other contaminants.

Many residents who chose to evacuate have stayed at area hotels, using vouchers and gift cards provided by Ford across town. Ford officials said they are also working on handing out certified checks for $ 500 to affected households over the next two weeks to help them resolve the inconvenience.

Bousquette, who has serious pre-existing health issues, said she had vomiting and headaches just before evacuating, and since staying in a hotel in Dearborn, those issues have gone away. During occasional stops at her home, she encountered an odor “like serious chemicals,” and said authorities would assess the air quality in her home in the coming days.

“I don’t know if I will ever feel safe there,” she said.

Contact Keith Matheny: 313-222-5021 or kmatheny@freepress.com.

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