Macomb lawmakers want answers from state on I-696 ooze

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Six Democratic lawmakers representing Macomb County have asked the Michigan environmental department to provide more answers about its involvement with a Madison Heights business believed responsible for green ooze leaking on to Interstate 696. 

In a letter dated Monday, Sen. Paul Wojno of Warren and Reps. John Chirkun of Roseville, Kevin Hertel of St. Clair Shores, Nate Shannon of Sterling Heights, Bill Sowerby of Clinton Township and Lori Stone of Warren asked state environmental Director Leisl Clark for more information about the state’s dealings with Electro-Plating Services and the ongoing safety of drinking water for Southeast Michigan residents. 

State Sen. Paul Wojno, D-District 9, is sworn in by Chief Justice Stephen Markman.

The Democratic lawmakers said they have been contacted by Macomb County residents concerned about the situation, which demands “a heightened obligation by the state to keep the public informed.” Lawmakers asked Clark for at least once-a-week updates.

“As the elected officials for the hardworking families of Macomb County, we have urgent questions regarding your plan for cleanup of the toxic waste seepage,” the lawmakers said. 

Clark plans to respond to lawmakers' questions "as the department begins the formal review of pollution inspection procedures," said EGLE spokeswoman Jill Greenberg. 

As recently as this spring, the state of Michigan told federal environmental officials that there was low probability that contaminants would spread from a Madison Heights business now deemed responsible for a green "ooze" leaking onto Interstate 696​​​​​​.​

The lawmakers' letter was sent the same day Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said her administration would be reviewing the state’s response to the matter and questioned whether there is adequate state staffing to address corporate polluters such as Electro-Plating Services.

She and Attorney General Dana Nessel said they would explore criminal charges against the facility’s owner, Gary Sayers, who is already set to spend a year in federal prison for illegally storing hazardous waste without a permit. 

The green ooze seeping from the embankment along eastbound I-696 was discovered earlier this month and is believed to be the product of the carcinogen hexavalent chromium leaking from the Madison Heights business and mixing with ground water.

The EPA and EGLE have been pumping the liquid from the embankment, storm sewers and the business since the ooze was discovered and believe there is no threat to public drinking water intakes. 

The leakage caps a history of improper hazardous waste storage at the facility, which was shuttered in 2016 following several violations that dated back to 1996. 

In 2017, the EPA did an initial cleanup of the business before turning the site over to EGLE for potential long-term remediation. EGLE earlier this year told the federal environmental agency that the site posed no risk to drinking water and had a low probability of migrating offsite. 

Lawmakers in their Monday letter asked for further information about the state’s actions following the EPA cleanup, including whether any additional cleanup occurred or if anyone visited the site in person to ensure the contaminants were not migrating offsite.

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

They also asked if the department lacked funding or adequate laws to address the issue.

“What are the long-term plans for containment, considering that snow melt and rain can speed up the rate at which chemicals move through the soil and into groundwater?” they asked.