New round of testing shows 'no impact' on water near Detroit dock collapse

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News

Detroit — A new round of water testing at the site of a November dock collapse that sent potentially harmful contaminants into the Detroit River reveals no impact on water quality, officials said Thursday.

The Great Lakes Water Authority said its second round of tests "confirm that there was no impact to water quality from this incident."

The authority is among the agencies, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and state's department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy, to conduct water sampling at the southwest Detroit property that once was home to Revere Brass and Copper.

Material is loaded into a gravel-train semi at Detroit Bulk Storage.

The sample, the authority said Thursday, was "non-detect" for certain manmade chemicals and compounds. 

"While there was radium detected, it is naturally occurring in our raw/source water," the water authority said. "All levels detected for this radionuclide (radioactive material) are below the established maximum contamination limit for drinking water set by the U.S. Environmental Protect Agency and the state of Michigan."

Earlier this week, Detroit Water and Sewerage Department Director Gary Brown sought to assure a Detroit City Council committee, residents and environmental activists that the river water remained as safe as it was prior to the Nov. 26 spill.

The water system is contained, Brown said, and there's no risk of any contaminants getting into it. Further, the limestone that fell into the waterway near the Ambassador Bridge is downstream from the treatment plant and intake valves, he noted. 

Brown on Thursday declined further comment beyond the water authority's statement. 

Earlier results from the authority did not detect uranium in its downstream water intake. It did find several metals, such as aluminum, barium, boron and strontium but those, authority officials have said, are naturally occurring in raw water.

Detroit building officials say the owner of the worrisome site had amassed up to 40,000 tons of limestone there since summer without a permit.

Revere Dock LLC has been slapped with $10,000 in fines and the threat of legal action from the city for illegally storing limestone there, David Bell, the city's director of Buildings, Safety Engineering and Environmental Department, told The News. 

The company gained ownership of the long-vacant site along Jefferson from Detroit in 2015 and leased it to Detroit Bulk Storage.

The illegal operation was uncovered by the city's building department after the collapse.

It's prompted concern over the impact of potentially dangerous materials, including uranium, were handled there in the 1940s to develop nuclear weapons under the Manhattan Project. 

The city issued an emergency correction order to Revere Dock in December and Detroit's law department is considering legal action to ensure the illegally stored aggregate there is removed.

As a result of the incident, the city will be increasing inspections of the 150-plus commercial businesses along the river. 

In a Friday letter to the state's Department of Environment, Great Lakes & Energy, Lansing-based consulting firm PM Environmental said on behalf of Revere Dock and its partner Ericksons of Grand Rapids, that the pile present at the time of the collapse has been removed. Remaining material was graded to provide erosion control.

The letter notes initial safety measures implemented, including a five-foot deep control barrier as well as plans to add a second that's 20 feet deep. The company plans to submit a more detailed response plan to the state on Jan. 24.

Once the plan is submitted, it will be reviewed by the state to determine whether it's acceptable, EGLE has said. 

Late last week, the state said soil and pond water sampling by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found lead and "many heavy metals including uranium." But the results of the testing of ponded areas on the property were "not unexpected."

One soil sample exceeded EPA removal management levels, according to the EPA. 

Previous testing by EGLE "showed no radiation above background levels at each of more than 1,000 locations on the site, nor in river water upstream and downstream."

From 1943 to 1946 at the site, Revere Copper and Brass produced uranium rods at its Detroit plant and during the late 1940s and early 1950s rolled or produced uranium rods, according to U.S. Department of Energy records. Chemicals such as beryllium and thorium were handled on the site, government records show.

Residents and environmental advocates are urging the city and Detroit's council to step up enforcement and bulk storage laws to protect public health.