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State issues update in review of Detroit hazardous waste site

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

Detroit — Traces of the so-called forever chemicals known as PFAS have been found at a hazardous waste storage and treatment facility in Detroit, but an environmental investigation has found no major health concerns during a review, the state said Thursday at a meeting to update residents.

"We’ll inform the community if there is any concern at all," said Tracy Kecskemeti, a district supervisor with the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy's Materials Management Division of a review of Petro-Chem Processing Group of Nortru LLC in Detroit. "But at this point, we have no health concerns."

Petro-Chem Processing at 421 Lycaste Ave., Thursday, March 5, 2020.

According to the latest results on PFAS testing, two ofthe wells at the industrial site were above theenvironmental health criteria for action, said John McCabe, a laboratory support specialist with the state. 

However, he said, "we are not particularly concerned about exposures to these concentrations at this time because … no one in the vicinity of the facility is drinking the water. This is extremely shallow groundwater. Many of these wells pump dry."

The main concern for PFAS exposure is through consumption, Kecskemeti said. There is little groundwater at the site, "so it doesn't go very far," she added.

Further testing will be needed to assure that the contaminants haven't moved to a sewer or other pathway that could lead to widespread exposure, McCabe said. 

Groundwater directly south of the site has not shown contaminants, said Nathan Erber, an EGLE geologist.

The meeting led by state officials at Wayne State University focused on a plan by Petro-Chem Processing Group of Nortru LLC to monitor and remediate releases from its operations. Previous monitoring found substances had seeped into groundwater and soil, according to EGLE. 

The plan is required under Petro-Chem’s hazardous waste operating license issued in 2012 by the department and includes action to clean up any soil and groundwater contamination as well as investigate whether contamination at the site has migrated or involves more contaminants.

Petro-Chem treats paints, sludges and other organic and inorganic waste streams. The firm also blends hazardous waste into fuel, the state said.

Probes at the site on Detroit's east side between 2013 and 2015 found that volatile organic compounds affected soil and groundwater, EGLE reported on its website, and action was required. 

The facility is situated on 8.53 acres and has been licensed for treating and storing hazardous waste since 1999. The next license renewal application is due June 21, 2022, according to the state.

Before 1999, releases at the property also caused soil and groundwater contamination, state authorities said.

Last year, the state approved plans allowing Petro-Chem to collect and analyze groundwater samples for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, from four groundwater monitoring wells.

Meanwhile, a berm of contaminated soil on the western part of the property was removed in December, said Daniel Dailey, a license and cleanup engineer with the department. 

A pilot study is underway of equipment that removes contaminants from the soil and groundwater underneath the berm, he said.

Other cleanup activities the company is working with the state to pursue include evaluating whether chemical vapors from the contamination are entering onsite and/or off-site buildings and monitoring of groundwater for methyl-tert-butyl-ether.

While Petro-Chem conducts the investigation required as part of its agreement with the state and cleanup, EGLE monitors its work to ensure it is protects public health and resident concerns are addressed.

The community will have the chance to weigh in on whether it's enough, she added. 

"This will not be the last time that we’re offering this opportunity" for public input, she said.