MONROE When residents of the Bolles Harbor area stepped outside yesterday morning, they found a fresh layer of a whitish powder that looked like summertime snow.
The houses, cars, and boats in the lakeside community here, just south of Monroe and about 20 miles north of Toledo, were covered.
Edward Nadeau, 63, saw it falling from the sky about 8:15 p.m. Monday.
It was just odd. I watched it coming down. I had never seen anything fly down from the air like that, Mr. Nadeau said yesterday. I was concerned about what it was, so I stepped into my garage for shelter.
The Monroe County Sheriff s Office responded at 8:22 p.m. to several reports of a low-flying airplane that had dropped a substance.
But several residents yesterday said they have seen similar whitish, yellowish plumes of smoky ash emanate and disperse from the local DTE Energy plant in Monroe.
Plant officials said yesterday that one of the facility s four generators shut down at 7:38 p.m. Monday.
On each generating unit there is something that is used to remove fly ash from the exhaust, said John Austerberry, a DTE spokesman. So when the unit shuts down, for a brief period of time it still produces exhaust but it cannot collect the ash.
Fly ash is the material in coal that cannot burn. It is similar to the material left in the bottom of a barbecue grill after the rest of the charcoal has burned away.
Brian Carley, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality s specialist who regulates the Monroe plant, said fly ash is largely harmless but it can cause problems for people with asthma similar to if they breathed in dust.
Officials from the DTE plant collected samples of the substance yesterday. Results may be available by the end of the week.
The sheriff s office also collected samples. Sgt. Brian Angerer yesterday took them to the Michigan State Police crime lab in Northville for analysis.
Sergeant Angerer said the results may not be available for a few weeks.
Mr. Carley said the DEQ may send the plant a letter of violation, but generally it works with power plants to make sure the problem does not reoccur.
The last time a similar problem occurred was on June, 19, 2005, Mr. Carley said.
A generator shut down at the Monroe plant, fly ash puffed out of its stacks, and wind took the ash and deposited it over the Toledo Beach Marina, which is about five miles south of Bolles Harbor.
As part of a subsequent agreement, DTE agreed to wash all the boats in the harbor, Mr. Carley said. No medical problems were reported.
Monday night, winds in Monroe were slight and in a southerly direction, according to the National Weather Service.
While residents in Bolles Harbor did not report seeing the ash until about 8:15 p.m., Mr. Carley said if the wind was light enough it may have taken a while for the ash to settle.
The substance s yellow tint bothered Mr. Carley, making him think it could be something entirely different.
I have seen this happen before in other places, and it turned out to be pollen instead of fly ash, he said. So we should wait for the report.
Mr. Nadeau said the flurries lasted only about 10 to 15 minutes.
I saw it coming down and thought, Well, that s weird, called my wife out to see if she could figure out what it was, and then poof it was gone, he said.
A few blocks away, Mr. Nadeau s grandson, Broc Coleman, 17, was sitting in the car with his girlfriend, Cassie Ray, 17, when the substance started trickling in through their open windows.
I just thought it was from the trees and didn t think nothing of it, he said.
His girlfriend thought it looked like snow.
Contact Benjamin Alexander-Bloch at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6168.