Ten Mile Drain among four Michigan superfund sites getting cleanup aid

Carol Thompson
The Detroit News

Four Michigan Superfund sites will get funding for cleanup projects through the more than $1 trillion federal infrastructure package President Joseph Biden signed in November, although it's unclear how much money each project will receive.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced Friday it would spend $1 billion to address a backlog of 49 contaminated sites across the country that had not had any funding. The money also will be used to accelerate cleanup projects at dozens more sites.

There are thousands of contaminated sites in the United States where hazardous waste was dumped, left out in the open or mismanaged, the EPA said in a press release. Sites include manufacturing facilities, processing plants, landfills and mining sites.

In August crews dug beneath a busy St. Clair Shores intersection, Bon Brae and Harper, the latest attempt at discovering the mystery of PCB's in the city's canals along Lake St. Clair in St. Clair Shores.

The sites in Michigan are:

  • Ten-Mile Drain in St. Clair Shores: Ten-Mile Drain is contaminated with PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, which the EPA believes were released from a commercial parking lot. The drain flows into canals that are connected to Lake St. Clair and alongside which people live. The cleanup will address PCB contamination in residential yards, parkway and utility corridors, and commercial properties. 
  • Charlevoix Municipal Well in Charlevoix: The groundwater in Charlevoix is contaminated with industrial chemicals including TCE, or trichloroethylene, and PCE, or perchloroethylene. The EPA built a new drinking water intake system in 1984, which allows the TCE plume to naturally move and disperse into Lake Michigan. But the PCE contamination remains. The chemicals can rise from the groundwater into the air, which is unsafe for human health. The new funds will pay for excavating contaminated soil, installing vapor intrusion mitigation systems and treating contaminated groundwater and deeper soils.
  • Tar Lake in Mancelona Township: The Antrim Iron Company's operations in Mancelona Township from 1882 to 1945 contaminated soil and groundwater in a 234-acre area. The EPA determined the site needed soil excavation and groundwater treatment in 2013 but has not had the money to complete the work. The new funds will pay for the removal of more than 220,000 tons of contaminated material and installing wells to treat groundwater.
  • Velsicol Burn Pit in St. Louis: The Velsicol Burn Pit is in a one-acre "out-of-bounds" area of a public golf course contaminated by an ash pile that was left on the site. The EPA's cleanup plan includes connecting nine nearby homes to the City of St. Louis drinking water system, excavating and disposing of the ash pile and studying the groundwater. 

"Many Michigan families and local communities have been waiting way too many years to have toxic Superfund sites cleaned up in their own backyards," said U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing. 

"One important reason I voted to pass this bill was so the Environmental Protection Agency will get dedicated funding to help solve dangerous situations for the health and safety of our families in communities like Saint Clair Shores," said U.S. Rep. Andy Levin, D-Bloomfield Township. "I am thrilled that this is among the first Superfund sites to receive resources for remediation thanks to the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act."

More than half of the projects EPA selected to receive funding are in historically underserved communities, EPA Administrator Michael Regan said in the release. 

"This work is just the beginning; with more than 1 in 4 Black and Hispanic Americans living within 3 miles of a Superfund site, EPA is working to serve people that have been left behind," he said.

The $1 billion in projects announced Friday is the first wave of funding resulting from the infrastructure law, which targeted $3.5 billion toward cleaning up Superfund sites. 

The law also reinstates a tax on chemical and petroleum industries that had funded cleanups from 1980 — the year the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, known as Superfund was approved — until 1995.