Wixom firm identified as source of chemical pollution in Huron River

Leonard N. Fleming
The Detroit News
Michigan health officials have warned residents not to eat fish from the Huron River in the five Metro Detroit counties of Livingston, Wayne, Oakland, Washtenaw and Monroe.

Chemical pollution of the Huron River in Metro Detroit appears to be coming from at least one Wixom-based company, according to city and state officials.

On June 14, Wixom's wastewater was tested and found to have levels of polyfluoroalkyl, a form of PFAS, far above the federal threshold of 70 parts per trillion. 

The spike in PFAS was identified as coming through Wixom's wastewater treatment plant from a company called Adept Plastic Finishing Inc. Officials from the Wixom-based company could not be reached for comment.

State environmental officials have spoken with the source, "visited the site and taken samples" that show a violation of the state's standard for surface water, said Michigan Department of Environmental Quality spokesman Scott Dean.

The discovery occurred as the state health officials have extended their month-long "do not eat" advisory for all fish in the Huron River in Livingston, Oakland, Washtenaw, Wayne, and Monroe counties. 

"We're working with MDEQ to do monitoring, sampling to get a handle on how that's rising and how to cut back on that source and eliminate that source in the longer run," said Wixom City Manager Steven Brown.

"We're doing sampling of our effluent at our plant, the treated wastewater that leaves our plant and we're also working with the MDEQ who's also working with the company to do sampling."

The chemicals also have been detected in Michigan lakes and drinking water in West Michigan’s Belmont area and around military installations including Wurtsmith Air Force Base and Sawyer Air Force Base.

PFAS chemicals have been used in firefighting foams, food packaged in the materials, and in commercial household products or manufacturing facilities.

Although the plastics company's wastewater goes through the Wixom plant for treatment, the PFAS spike occurred because "there's no treatment process in place for that chemical," Brown said.

"This is a new concern that's coming up," he said. "The DEQ's is kind of working through this and we're working through this. But the fact of the matter is unbeknownst to us."

The Wixom sewer water situation is different from the situation in west Michigan, where about 3,000 people in Parchment and Cooper Township were told not to drink or cook with their well water after elevated levels of PFAS were found in the drinking water. The city has since been hooked up to Kalamazoo's well water system.

The state's environmental regulators say they told Wixom officials "to work with their significant sources to reduce and eliminate sources of PFAS to the sanitary sewer" as soon as possible. But state officials admitted it will take an unspecified amount of time for the city to reduce the pollution.

"We are recommending that local limits for PFOS and special sewer use ordinance language be developed to help bring the source into compliance," Dean said.

State health officials said contact with Huron River water is not considered dangerous.

"Touching the fish or water and swimming in these water bodies is not considered a health concern as PFAS do not move easily through the skin," according to a statement from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. "An occasional swallow of river or lake water is also not considered a health concern."


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