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Koch’s Coke Clouds Show Potential Regulatory Gaps

Koch industriesIt was hard to imagine Koch Industries could lose much more public trust. But last week, residents of Windsor, Ontario were given one more reason to dislike the diversified private company, when a huge black cloud of petroleum coke swept into town. It had travelled across the river from Detroit, where great piles of the byproduct have been sitting. Back in the Motor City, residents say the dust is invading their homes.

Koch Carbon owns the pet coke, which was produced at a nearby Marathon Petroleum refinery. The coal-like material is produced during oil refining and can be used as a fuel source – though one dirtier than coal. A Michigan Department of Environmental Quality spokesman told the Toronto Star that pet coke is non-toxic, but the MDEQ is concerned about its effect on those with compromised respiratory systems.

Now Detroit Bulk Storage, which owns the site, says it will not take any more pet coke shipments, and Koch Carbon says it is shipping the coke to Ohio, M Live reports. That will likely placate Detroit and Windsor residents only if they can be guaranteed that the piles will not return. And will Ohio residents will be the next to see dust clouds hang over their towns and sweep into their homes?

It’s unclear if the fault here is a failure of policy or practice. A Detroit Bulk Storage spokesman said it is common industry practice, especially on the Great Lakes, to cover pet coke with an epoxy and store it in the open. But there are exceptions that create problems. In this case, DBS broke an epoxy seal in order to load the dust onto a vessel – at which point the coke blew across the river. These exceptions – and pet coke’s potential human health effects – need to be examined by industry and by regulators.

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