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Chemicals in Huron River put Flat Rock on alert months after Ford gas leak

Huron River
An iridescent sheen floats on the Huron River near downtown Flat Rock (Photo courtesy of Jill Greenberg)

Just months after a gas leak at the Ford Motor Co. Flat Rock Assembly plant forced hundreds of residents to evacuate for weeks on end, the city is dealing with another chemical leak.

This time, it’s in a downtown stretch of the Huron River where anglers on Monday called city officials after noticing an iridescent sheen that appears to be bubbling up from under the surface.

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City officials then alerted the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy Monday night to an “unknown hydrocarbon sheen” on the river, EGLE spokesperson Hugh McDiarmid told Bridge Michigan on Tuesday.

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The Flat Rock Fire Department immediately placed booms in the river to control the spill. At the time, the sheen was approximately 500 feet long and 100 feet wide, McDiarmid said. 

It’s unclear what caused the leak, but Flat Rock Mayor Mark Hammond told Bridge the substance is continuing to leak into a “backwater tributary” of the Huron.

EGLE officials said the leak occurred near the Flat Rock Dam in Downtown Flat Rock, 10 miles upstream from the Huron’s mouth at Lake Erie, between Detroit and Monroe.

“We’re trying to figure out a source, but right now we don’t know,” Hammond said. 

McDiarmid said crews are checking the sewers as they work to determine the extent and origins of the leak.

The Huron River spill comes months after a gas leaked out of a storage container at the Ford factory and into the city sewers, causing hazardous fumes to waft into area homes and prompting hundreds of residents to evacuate for more than two weeks. 

Ford was slow to disclose the 1,400-gallon leak to state regulators after company workers discovered it on Sept. 1, and the crisis strained relations between Flat Rock residents and the town’s largest employer.

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EGLE is still investigating that previous leak, and has not yet decided whether Ford will face fines, agency spokesperson Jill Greenberg said.

McDiarmid said local fire crews and hazmat teams, EGLE and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are responding to the latest Flat Rock leak. No injuries have been reported.

Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn, released a statement on the leak, saying she’s been on the phone with public officials responding to the incident.

“My office will remain in close contact with all necessary federal, state, and local officials and we are monitoring this situation closely,” Dingell said.  “We will ensure information is readily available and communicated effectively as soon as we have more details on this emergency response situation.”

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