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County: 'Milky substance' in Sterling Heights drain likely concrete washout

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News
Crews are working to keep the substance found Thursday from traveling downstream.

Sterling Heights — An investigation continued on Friday into what is now believed to be concrete washout in the Burr Relief #2 Drain in central Sterling Heights, the public works commissioner said.

Investigators were walking the drain on Friday and visiting businesses in the area, seeking the source of the material. The presence of the material was first reported by a citizen Thursday afternoon. Macomb County Public Works Office and Michigan Department of Environmental Quality personnel are working together on the response.

A sediment curtain was installed Thursday to prevent the material from traveling downstream and entering the Plumbrook Drain, which the Burr Relief #2 empties into.

The drain is east of Mound Road, south of 18 Mile, in an industrial area of Sterling Heights. Ultimately, the drain’s water travels via to the Plumbrook to the Red Run to the Clinton River and out to Lake St. Clair.

The on-and-off heavy rains Friday morning have hampered the operation by introducing heavier water volumes to the drains.

“Our No. 1 goal is to prevent this material from traveling further down stream,” said Candice S. Miller, Macomb County Public Works commissioner.

“Once we establish the source of this material, we will be working with the property owner to correct this situation. At the very least, they should be ready to pay for the cost of this response. This should not fall on the taxpayer.”

She said that a fine against the property owner is also possible, depending on the result of the investigation.

In 2018, the Public Works division sent fliers on how to properly handle concrete washout to every known concrete business in the county. The fliers were also shared with municipal building departments.

“This is part of our comprehensive effort to get the word out, that actions that we take have a direct impact on our water quality. Education is a key component of what we do,” Miller said. 

“This is a very troubling image. The water looks just like milk passing by. We cannot, we simply cannot, continue to treat our environment this way,” Miller said this week. “This drain travels through people’s backyards and ultimately into Lake St Clair. We have zero tolerance for contaminants in our waterways.”

Crews have started installing booms and a curtain to prevent the substance from traveling farther downstream as officials work to find its source.