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No contaminants dumped at Sanilac Co. property of ooze site owner, state says

The Detroit News

Initial testing at the properties of a man who owns the Madison Heights site where toxic green “ooze” emerged on Interstate 696 last month does not appear to show contaminants were dumped there, state officials announced Wednesday. 

The testing was conducted at a Sanilac County site and a Detroit site owned by Gary Sayers, who has three state properties under investigation by the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy as well as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Contractors from Tetra Tech Engineering services company use a drill this month to retrieve soil samples to detect contamination near the facility where the green ooze was seeping out and onto the shoulder of I-696 in Madison Heights.

"Surface water test results for a creek on the property show no detectable levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) or heavy metals that exceed surface water quality criteria," the department said in a statement.

"Samples both upstream and downstream from an empty drum found in the water showed no levels of contaminants exceeding standards."

Meanwhile, EGLE said soil samples, including one next to an empty drum labeled for hazardous waste, "show no detectable levels of several chemicals typically used in plating operations, including trichlorethylene (TCE) and hexavalent chromium."

The soil samples showed "the presence of silver, mercury, selenium and total chromium, but below levels that would indicate concern for public health," the department said. "Those results are still being analyzed."

EGLE plans to survey the property, including with ground-penetrating radar, to determine if there are disturbed areas where drums or chemicals were dumped or buried on the site, representatives said Wednesday.

At property owned by Sayers on Commonwealth in Detroit, testing of liquids found earlier this month in concrete pits "detected heavy metals but no hexavalent chromium or semi-volatile (SVOCS)," the state said.

"The metal results indicate the liquids will need to be disposed of as non-hazardous waste," a release from EGLE said Wednesday. "Results from PFAS testing of the liquids will be provided from a third-party lab next week. Once PFAS results are available, wastes from the pits will be vacuumed directly into a truck and hauled for proper disposal."

The update comes as authorities continue to scrutinize Sayers' shuttered Oakland County business, Electro-Plating Services, which has seen emergency response since contamination was discovered along the I-696 highway embankment on Dec. 20.

State and federal officials believe thousands of gallons of waste seeped into the soil and groundwater and eventually made its way north a couple of hundred feet along I-696, prompting the closure of one lane and an exit.

Since then,  authorities have vacuumed thousands of gallons of waste from the pits for safe disposal off-site.

The city of Detroit completed fencing of the Commonwealth property Wednesday to restrict access to outside areas at the site, EGLE said. The department also completed securing access to the building Jan. 11.

"Significant debris near pits and drains/sewers at Commonwealth will need to be cleared to allow EGLE’s Remediation and Redevelopment Division staff to collect soil samples from the property," officials said. "Permission to clear the debris through the property owner or through city of Detroit authority will need to be obtained and may pose a time impediment."

Meanwhile, EPA officials have conducted additional soil and groundwater testing south side of 10 Mile in Hazel Park, across from Electro-Plating Services, to determine if contaminants have migrated, the state reported Wednesday.

EGLE last week announced that recent testing near the Madison Heights site found the presence of PFAS, per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or so-called forever chemicals in sewers and a creek. PFAS has been associated with health risks such as thyroid disease, increased cholesterol levels and kidney and testicular cancers.

The department said the testing was conducted this month in nearby storm sewers and at Bear Creek, which representatives said is not directly connected to Electro-Plating Services and two other buildings. The creek flows into the Clinton River and eventually to Lake St. Clair.

The department analysis showed detectable levels of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, according to a statement. PFOS — one of the compounds — was detected in Bear Creek at 17.9 parts per trillion, exceeding surface water criteria of 12 ppt.

The department said it plans to work with the Environmental Protection Agency to create a sampling plan to continue monitoring contaminants in storm sewers and Bear Creek.

A civil trial involving Sayers began Jan. 13. Madison Heights is asking that he be ordered to demolish three condemned buildings along East 10 Mile or permit the city to do the work and bill him.

Sayers is serving a one-year federal prison sentence after pleading guilty to illegal handling of hazardous waste at Electro-Plating Services and other properties. He has been ordered to repay a $1.5 million cleanup done by EPA in 2017.