Whitmer considers legal action on contaminated ooze

Leonard N. Fleming
The Detroit News

Lansing — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said Monday her administration is considering legal action that would include criminal charges against the company responsible for the green chemical that oozed onto Interstate 696.

Whitmer declared that the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy is working to prevent a leak like this from happening again.

"The ongoing situation in Madison Heights is very concerning and further stresses the need to enforce protections that keep Michiganders safe," the governor said in a statement.

“...My administration is actively reviewing all means of accountability, including further criminal charges against the polluter who caused this mess. Today I also directed EGLE to conduct a formal review of its pollution inspection procedures to strengthen enforcement and accountability." 

Attorney General Dana Nessel pledged Monday that her "department will do everything in our power" to help the Whitmer administration and is "creating a Criminal Unit that will focus specifically on environmental prosecutions." It is part of Nessel's efforts to bolster the Attorney General's Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture Division.

The state of Michigan would be at least the third government agency to pursue action against Electro-Plating Services and owner-operator Gary A. Sayers if Whitmer and Nessel decide to follow through with litigation.

Electro-Plating Services was shut down amid a 2017 Superfund environmental cleanup. Sayers pleaded guilty in federal court to illegal handling of hazardous waste and is set to surrender next month to begin serving a one-year prison term.

Sayers of Bloomfield Hills has also been ordered to repay the federal government $1.5 million already spent cleaning up the site, which is apparently leaching toxic materials into the ground.

The city of Madison Heights is already suing Sayers’ plating operation in Oakland County Circuit Court, where it seeks an order for him to demolish and safely dispose of three 1950-circa buildings, which includes the building linked to the I-696 leak, or let the city do the work. A civil trial is scheduled to begin Jan. 13.

Preliminary test results of soil and water near the building where a green chemical oozed onto Interstate 696 show high levels of multiple contaminants, but no risk to drinking water intakes in Lake St. Clair, the state Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy said Friday.

Four members of Michigan's congressional delegation have asked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for more help cleaning up green ooze

Electro-Plating Services is responsible for the contaminated liquid that migrated on to the Interstate 696 freeway shoulder earlier this month, according to the state. The Dec. 20 spill of contaminated fluid onto I-696 prompted a multi-agency response to contain the liquid.

Soil tests on the highway embankment where the yellow-green liquid appeared on the shoulder showed multiple heavy metals and other contaminants at levels below the threshold for direct human contact, EGLE said.

Macomb County Public Works Director Candice Miller described the toxic waste linked to the business as “life-threatening and terrifying.”

“The ‘green ooze’ that was spotted on I-696 a week ago may have been a blessing in disguise as it led to the revelation of an incredibly dangerous situation at this abandoned business,” Miller said in a statement last week. “The photos published this week truly tell the story.

“The current conditions in that business — conditions after a $1.5 million EPA-led cleanup — tells me that guidelines on how such cleanups are conducted are inadequate,” she said. “The bare minimum was done on this cleanup.”

As Whitmer made her Monday announcement, the League of Conservation Voters urged the state government to "step up" and do more about environmental hazards.

“The green slime oozing beneath Oakland County is a warning sign for us all that our drinking water is being threatened more than ever before,” said Lisa Wozniak, executive director of the Michigan League of Conservation Voters.

“... The Legislature and governor need to work hand-in-hand to do more than just talk about protections and clean up but put those words into action.”


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