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Residents sue Marathon refinery over pollution

Feb 23, 2016

Credit user braun / Flickr

A lawsuit was filed Monday in federal court, claiming air contaminants, noise and odor from Marathon's refinery in southwest Detroit is causing a continuous nuisance that's harming people who live nearby.

The lawsuit is seeking class action status, damages of more than $5 million  for area residents, and a court order to stop Marathon from releasing contaminants into the air and to cut noise and odor.

"The area next to that Marathon refinery is one of the most polluted, if not the most polluted, zip codes in the country," said Chris Nidel, one of the attorneys bringing the lawsuit. "And Marathon is the most significant contributor to that."

"This is an example of an environmental justice issue where you have a low income, largely minority community that's being unfairly impacted and is having its right to clean air and a clean environment taken away by a nuisance neighbor which is, in this case, Marathon," Nidel said. 

"The people in the neighborhood are experiencing everything from disruptions that sound like the plant is going to explode in the middle of the night. They have odors in the middle of the night. They have odors in the middle of the day," said Nidel. "They have soot that builds up on their properties. The outside of their houses change color over time, and they have to wash their houses to get them clean. They have trouble breathing."

"Under nuisance law in the state of Michigan, no facility – whether permitted or unpermitted – can have unreasonable impacts on a neighboring community," Nidel said.

The lawsuit comes as the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality is considering a new permit that would allow Marathon to increase its emissions of sulfur dioxide and other pollutants at the southwest Detroit refinery.

The lawsuit names Marathon Oil Corporation and Marathon Petroleum Corporation as defendants.  

In an email, Lisa Singhania, spokesperson for Marathon Oil Corporation, wrote, "The refinery in question is owned by Marathon Petroleum, so all questions should be referred to them. We are a completely separate company and do not own the refinery."

Marathon Petroleum spokesman Jamal Kheiry declined to comment, citing pending litigation.