Mysterious gas leak frightens residents of historic Detroit neighborhood

Hope hospital_1010A strong, sulfur-like odor has blanketed the historic Detroit neighborhood of Virginia Park since at least November, raising fears of a serious explosion.

But neither the fire department nor DTE can find the source of what both acknowledge may be a major leak coming from a natural gas line or the underground sewage system.

“I’m frightened,” Nate Graham told me, saying the odor is so pungent that he can sometimes smell it from inside his house. “It’s like a ticking time bomb.”

A pair of urban explorers first tipped us off about the leak last week when the source of the smell appeared to be inside the abandoned Hope Hospital at 801 Virginia Park St. They called the fire department and DTE, which both acknowledged smelling the strong odor.

“They couldn’t find the leak,” DTE spokesman Scott Simon told me last week before saying the company would send out more inspectors.

The responsibility to address a gas leak rests with the utility, not the fire department.

On Saturday, the odor was nauseating and just as strong or stronger than last week. In some cities, residents would be evacuated for such a pungent, sulfur-like smell. Not in Detroit.

Unaddressed gas leaks are very dangerous and can cause entire buildings to explode.

Virginia Park & Third
Brick-paved Virginia Park St.

Virginia Park was an upper-middle class enclave in the late 1800s and early 1900s. But it has been hit hard by the continuing exodus to the suburbs, with abandoned houses dominating some blocks.

In 2010, Hope Hospital closed following serious violations found by the state.

“In 2013, the hospital property went into foreclosure for non-payment of taxes, and the security guards were laid off in May,” according to “In just a few weeks scrappers tore the building to shreds, ripping out wire, pipe, window and door frames, equipment, as well as anything of value.”

The security guards moved into a vacant house across the street from the hospital.

Steve Neavling

Steve Neavling lives and works in Detroit as an investigative journalist. His stories have uncovered corruption, led to arrests and reforms and prompted FBI investigations.

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