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Gary Peters wants a study of health risks of pet coke

James Fassinger Stillscenes

U.S. Senator Gary Peters, D-Michigan, has introduced legislation with Illinois Senator Dick Durbin to require a study of the health effects of petroleum coke, along with best practices for storage and disposal.

Peters says both Chicago and Detroit have had problems with open piles of pet coke, which is a byproduct of processing heavy tar sands oil.

A huge pile of pet coke was stored near the Detroit River in 2013 and 2014.

"It was blowing into people's homes, going into the Great Lakes, people had respiratory issues because of the dust that was blowing," says Peters. He says one video showed "the Ambassador Bridge in the background, and the cloud of dust was so thick it obscured the bridge."

Pet coke has also been stored along the Calumet River in Illinois, causing similar problems.

The bill directs the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to conduct a comprehensive assessment of the public health and environmental impacts of petroleum coke production and use; an assessment of best practices for storing, transporting and managing the material; and an analysis of current and projected domestic production and use.

Peters says the legislation, if it becomes law, could eventually require the U.S. EPA to issue regulations for pet coke.

Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Radio. She began her career at Michigan Radio as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.