Coke breeze causes concern on Detroit waterfront

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There are huge piles of what is known as "Coke breeze" near the Detroit River and the people living nearby are concerned for their health.

This reminds people of something else stored illegally along the river - but unlike pet coke, this material doesn't cause cancer but it poses some health risks many are concerned about.

"It's not fair to any of us here," said resident Camellia Beanum. "It's not healthy for the kids. And our breathing."

Beanum lives kitty corner to the piles of coke breeze along the Detroit River. It's an industrial byproduct of coal and has people living nearby are on edge. This material can be dangerous.

"its right there," said Rubin Wansley. "I can walk right to the corner and just-it's too close. Too close for comfort."

And the city of Detroit learned the Waterfront Petroleum Terminal Company has been storing the material here without a permit.

"Yes I wish it was gone," Wansley said. "But I would rather know what it is and what extent it's going to affect our health or the neighborhood."

Those are the same concerns people raised a couple of years ago after learning piles of petroleum coke or pet coke were being stored along the riverfront.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, if inhaled that material can affect the heart, lungs and pose other health risks.

No one from the Waterfront Petroleum Terminal Company was available for comment, but the company's lawyer told the Detroit Free Press that coke breeze is entirely different than pet coke.

But many don't buy it.

"This coke breeze, as they call it, has a lot of the same characteristics as the petroleum coke piles had on the river last year," said Nick Schroeck.

Schroeck is an environmental law professor at Wayne State University.

"The main issue is dust," he said. "They have to be able to control the dust on the site because when that dust blows into people's homes and into their businesses that can not only cause irritation and breathing difficulties, but people who have asthma or elderly people that have breathing difficulties, (it) can really make it a lot harder for them to breathe."

State Rep. Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit) is asking Michigan's Department of Environmental Quality to investigate.

In the meantime, people living here want something done as soon as possible.

"We have kids, we have this plant over here," Beanum said. "They have dust and they going to bring that back over here, that's not right."

It is unknown how soon MDEQ will send out inspectors, but the city of Detroit says that the company is cooperating and plans to remove the coke breeze in the next three to 45 days.

The company has a temporary permit until the coke breeze is removed. If the company does not comply, the city could fine it.