LANSING — State Reps. Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit) and Abdullah Hammoud (D-Dearborn) introduced legislation today to address the storage of petroleum coke (pet coke) and other bulk solid material, the cumulative impact of air pollution, and air pollution that is made worse during a weather condition known as thermal inversion.

“Air pollution during thermal inversions and the safe storage of pet coke and coke breeze are particular problems in House District 6, which includes Southwest Detroit, River Rouge and Ecorse, and is home to a refinery, a steel plant, a waste water treatment plant, a coal-fired plant, and heavy international truck traffic,” said Chang. “My residents, many of whom suffer from asthma or other respiratory conditions, deserve the right to breathe clean air, and our bills will help move us toward better public health in our communities, some of which are the most polluted in the state.”

Thermal inversion is a weather condition during which a layer of warm air overlies a layer of cooler air near the ground and acts like a lid, limiting vertical mixing and thereby trapping pollutants near the ground. Chang’s air quality thermal inversion bill, House Bill 4256, would require the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) to declare an air quality action day for a geographic area in Michigan when it has forecasted that the air quality index or particulate matter (PM 2.5) sub-index are in the “moderate” category or worse — meaning that the air pollution would be “unhealthy for sensitive groups” of residents, such as children, senior citizens and people already suffering from illnesses. An air quality action day means that MDEQ gives the public advance notice of the air quality anticipated for a certain day. The bill also creates a new “winter thermal inversion action day” if there is a thermal inversion forecasted during the winter months. Another Chang bill, House Bill 4258, would require that new or renewal air quality permits issued by the MDEQ would have to include a report on cumulative pollution levels and its effects. Residents of House District 6 have long been calling for cumulative impact studies of the air pollution because of the multiple sources of pollution. The report would have to be paid for by the applicant.

Hammoud’s air quality permit bill, House Bill 4255, requires each company applying for a new or renewal air quality permit to include a plan for the appropriate reduction of emissions during winter thermal inversion action days. During thermal inversion conditions air pollution becomes an even bigger problem for residents because pollutants do not disperse the way they normally would, which is why the problem needs to be addressed. Other states such as Utah and Colorado already have policies to address thermal inversion.

“Air pollution is a topic of great concern in my district, and the community of Dearborn,” said Hammoud. “Air pollution can lead to major health concerns and we know it exacerbates asthma, COPD and some cancers. We need to address air pollution whenever it occurs, but we also need to make sure that we are doing everything we can to mitigate it during winter thermal inversion days when air quality could be even worse for residents living near areas of concern.”

Chang is also the sponsor of House Bill 4257 requiring the safe storage of pet coke, a byproduct of refined tar sands and is characterized as being very similar to coal, or other types of bulk solid material such as coke breeze, which was stored on the Detroit River just last year. Pet coke can emit up to 10 percent more carbon dioxide than coal into the air. The pet coke found in Detroit also contains two toxic metals, selenium and vanadium. In recent years, large black mountains of petroleum coke sat openly on the banks of the Detroit River without any clear measures of preventing airborne particulates or water runoff. 

“These chemicals found in pet coke put our Great Lakes and our children’s health at risk, and that’s why we need to make sure that it is stored properly,” said Chang. “My bill would require that pet coke or other bulk solid material be covered to prevent airborne dust and water runoff into our waterways, and it also requires that these substances are securely contained when transported. These changes are vital to ensuring that Michigan residents and our environment are protected.”