Some residents of the city of Flat Rock, Michigan were asked to evacuate their homes following a chemical leak that traced back to Ford’s Flat Rock Assembly Plant. A tank at the “Mustang plant” leaked 1,400 gallons of unleaded gasoline into the city’s sewer system, according to CNN and the Detroit News. Firefighting foam has been sprayed into the sewers, apparently.
The gasoline leak prompted “response teams” from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to go door-to-door to make sure people knew. The teams went around telling folks in the affected areas about the leak, and more or less encouraging them to evacuate because the gasoline contains benzene, which is considered a “Volatile Chemical Compound.”
Benzene is harmful to human health whether a person is exposed to it in the short- or long-term. Not only is benzene a known carcinogen, but the symptoms of exposure to the VOC can show up through “headaches, dizziness, feeling weak, a rapid heart rate, or you can feel sleepy,” per NPR.
The residents who heeded the “voluntary” evacuations are not going to have to foot the bill for their accommodations, which is the last thing these folks should have to worry about because of the leak. A Fox2 report says that Ford is going to pay for the evacuees as they seek shelter away from the benzene vapors. An NPR report, however, suggested that an unnamed government agency would be offering assistance as well.
The leaky tank is used to store gasoline for cars that the carmaker builds, according to an official from Ford, as the Detroit News detailed:
The leak came from a gasoline storage tank at the assembly plant, which builds Mustangs and dates to 1987. The tank is used to fuel the cars after they are built, said T.R. Reid, a Ford spokesman.
Ford has known about the leak since last Wednesday, but it didn’t publicly disclose the information until Friday, per the Detroit News. During a press briefing on Sunday, the director of Health and Human Services in the state, Elizabeth Hertel, said the department didn’t “believe there [was] any imminent danger to residents at this time.”
Of course, the keyword there is “imminent.” To be sure, there is danger to benzene exposure. The chemical leak affected the following two areas, per NPR:
The Zone 1 area is bounded by I-75 to the east, Gibraltar Road to the north, Cahill Road to the west, and Woodruff Road to the south. This area has had the highest levels of benzene vapors, and some homes have already been evacuated.
Zone 2 is bounded by Gibraltar Road to the north, Sheeks Road to the west, East Huron River Drive to the south, and Cahill Road. There is the potential that the chemicals have traveled through the sewer lines in this area. Again, residents who are concerned might want to evacuate their homes until more information is available.