Is that the pet coke? Emerson, who captured stunning YouTube footage of the cloud on his cellphone at the Windsor waterfront on Saturday evening, asked his wife.
Oh my God, he concluded. Yep thats pet coke.
For months, tall black piles of petroleum coke, commonly called pet coke, have been controversially stored on industrial property in Detroit near the Ambassador Bridge, prompting concerns from local residents over potential environmental and health impacts.
According to Emerson, a member of the Windsor on Watch environmental group, those fears came to fruition on Saturday.
Pet coke shouldnt be stored on a riverfront, thats for sure. It should be in a building, he said of the byproduct of Alberta heavy crude, which is used as a cheap replacement for coal.
Detroit Bulk Storage, the company responsible for storing the pet coke, did not return calls from the Star on Wednesday.
A company spokesman told the Windsor Star that the dust cloud was caused by high winds that blew in just as inventory was being loaded onto a ship. The company uses an epoxy seal to contain the dust, but the seal has to be broken to load the material onto the vessel, he said.
The pet coke piles were produced at Marathon Petroleums refinery in Detroit and are owned by Koch Carbon, a company owned by the American billionaire Koch brothers, famed for their support of conservative political causes.
Detroit billionaire Matty Morouns real-estate entity, Crown Enterprises, owns the property where pet coke is being stored. But according to Crown Enterprises president Michael Samhat, Norfolk Southern has a perpetual lease for the land, and is responsible for subcontracting its use.
Detroit Bulk announced earlier this month that it has stopped accepting shipments of pet coke. Koch Carbon, which did not respond to a request for comment, has said that
it plans to store the pet coke in another, as yet unnamed, state.
Brad Wurfel, spokesman for the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ), said pet coke, which is nearly pure carbon, is non-toxic. But MDEQ has long had concerns about the impact of fugitive dust in the air unleashed when the product is loaded onto barges.
Especially for folks whove got compromised lung systems, its not good, he said. Its not acceptable.
Wurfel expects the piles to be gone by mid-August. But as the pet coke is being moved off-site, he warned, It is entirely foreseeable that there may be another dust event.