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Professor goes public over pet coke concerns

May 31, 2013

Mountains of petroleum coke — a byproduct of oil refining from tar sands in Alberta, Canada — have drawn public concern from politicians, environmental experts, community activists, business owners and residents in the southwest Detroit neighborhood where the black mounds have been deposited along the riverfront since late fall.

Wayne Law Professor Nick Schroeck, who is executive director of the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center and 2007 alumnus, joined U.S. Rep. Gary Peters, a 1989 Wayne Law graduate, and others to speak out during a May 28 press conference on Fort Street, where the three-story-high pet coke mounds piled east and west of the Ambassador Bridge are clearly visible.

Schroeck is no stranger to media attention. He is frequently tapped by reporters, conservation groups and other law schools across the country as an expert on high-profile environmental law issues, including the controversy over oil and gas extraction by hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.”

The pet coke piles in Detroit raise a number of public health and environmental concerns. The dust that blows off the mounds is “pretty dramatic,” based on photos taken from the Canadian side of the river, Schroeck said. Also of concern is water runoff into the Detroit River from the uncovered stacks of pet coke, which are expected to be shipped to other countries. Pet coke can be burned with coal to produce energy, but the process is dirty, and U.S. EPA regulations prevent it from being used much in the United States.

Health studies and permitting processes — federal , state and local — for storing the pet coke seem to be lacking, Schroeck said during a flurry of recent interviews over the issue. And the issuance of government permits often include public hearings, which to date haven’t been held over the pet coke mounds, he said.

State officials with the Department of Environmental Quality told media that the piles of pet coke don’t pose a “significant” health risk. Schroeck isn’t convinced. Nor is Peters.

The Congressman said he will introduce a bill to have the EPA conduct environmental and health studies, and he cited Delaware regulations that require pet coke to be covered during storage and transport. Schroeck said that at the very least, the mountains of pet coke are detrimental to the area’s growing economy and recent efforts to enhance the riverfront for recreation, and he noted that the southwest Detroit neighborhood already is subjected to heavy pollution.

The Wayne Law professor recently was quoted and/or interviewed as an expert on the issue by Fox 2 TV, the Windsor Star, CBC Radio, the Detroit Free Press, MLive and Michigan Public Radio.

To schedule an interview with Schroeck, contact Brianna Fritz at

Photo caption: Wayne State University Law School Professor Nick Schroeck is interviewed by reporters as Congressman Gary Peters (left) looks on.