DETROIT (WWJ) – Demonstrators gathered in Southwest Detroit on Wednesday to protest the growing mounds of petroleum waste — known in the industry as “pet coke” — that now block the view to Windsor.

WWJ Newsradio 950 spoke with John Bolenbaugh, who says he blew the whistle on a tar sand spill cover up in Marshall, Michigan, in 2011.

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Bolenbaugh said chemical dust from the mounds, near 15th Street at West Jefferson, have serious health impacts — and studies have shown pet coke can cause lung damage.

Protesters are concerned about residents on both sides of the Detroit River breathing in particles from unsecured mounds.

“Now, if you wanna talk about tar sand oil — which is the actual oil that this byproduct is made from — it causes liver damage, kidney damage, miscarriages, birth defects, migraines, headaches,” Bolenbaugh said.

Pet coke protest. (credit: Pat Sweeting/WWJ)

Pet coke protest. (credit: Pat Sweeting/WWJ)

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Bolenbaugh said they also want to know more about what runoff from those mounds is doing to the river itself.

“When it rains these chemicals from this byproduct pet coke, actually will flow into the river,” he said. “We need studies. We need to find out what does happen, because we know that his is more toxic than coal.”

State Rep. Rashida Tlaib, who represents citizens living along the east and west riverfront, too is concerned about possible environmental and physical threats posed by the pet coke, and wants answers.

“You know,  nobody seems to want to take blame for this,” said Tlaib. “Marathon is producing the product — that’s all we can confirm. However, they haven’t gotten permission from their customer [to reveal] who they are.

“The people storing the material … we’re not sure who exactly they are. All we know is that the original property owners are the folks tho own the Ambassador Bridge,” she said.

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Tlaib said they have learned that the property owners, the Detroit International Bridge Company, leased the property to a rail company.