Hazardous chemical spill in Huron River sparks warnings to avoid the water

Candice Williams
The Detroit News

State health officials are recommending that residents and their pets avoid contact with parts of the Huron River watershed following the release of a hazardous chemical linked to cancer.

The affected area is the Huron River between North Wixom in Oakland County and Kensington roads in Livingston County, according to the Michigan departments of Health and Human Services; Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy; and local officials.

Testing and monitoring are underway after the release of hexavalent chromium to the Wixom Sewage Treatment Facility from Tribar Manufacturing in Wixom. The sewer feeds the Wixom wastewater treatment plant, and the plant discharges to the Huron River system.

DNR Ranger Zach Vogler posts a warning notice near Heavner Canoe Rental, in Milford Tuesday after a hexavalent chromium spill into the Huron River.

Results are expected in the coming days, according to officials. Officials said Monday there is no immediate threat to drinking water. Hexavalent chromium, a carcinogen, can cause health effects through ingestion, skin contact or inhalation, according to officials.

EGLE officials said Tribar Manufacturing notified them at 3:21 p.m. Monday that it had released several thousand gallons of a liquid containing 5% hexavalent chromium into the sewer system. The company said that although it discovered the release Monday, the release could have started as early as Saturday morning.

“This is a significant release into a large, much-loved waterway,” said Liesl Clark, EGLE director, in a statement Tuesday. “Our teams are in the field now assessing the situation. We will stay on the job as long as it takes to ensure residents are safe and impacts to the ecosystem are minimized.”

DNR Ranger Zach Vogler posts a warning last week on a foot bridge that crosses the Huron River near a horse staging area at Proud Lake Recreation Area in Milford.

Also impacted: Norton Creek downstream of the Wixom Wastewater Treatment Plant; Hubbell Pond, also known as Mill Pond; and Kent Lake.

Residents are asked not to swim, wade or drink water from the Huron River. It’s also advised not to water plants or the lawn. Fish caught from this section of the Huron River should not be consumed.

“This recommendation is being made to help protect the health and safety of families who live, work and play in the Huron River in the affected area,” said Elizabeth Hertel, MDHHS director, in a statement. “As we gather additional information through sampling, this recommendation may change or be expanded.”

The Huron River near a horse staging area at Proud Lake Recreation Area, in Milford, Tuesday evening. State health officials are recommending that residents and their pets avoid contact with parts of the Huron River watershed following the release of hexavalent chromium.

News of the incident dismayed residents such as Marc Harwin of West Bloomfield Township, a kayaker who has been paddling the Huron River since 1989.

He called it a "very peaceful beautiful place with distinctive wildlife, including varieties of turtles and birds."

"The discharge of more dangerous chemicals into the river is a reflection of the choices we make as a society," he said. "Coming to the river today felt like going to a funeral and mourning a deep loss.

"The consequences of our choices have far and deep impacts, and these may be silent over a long period of time."

In recent years, Tribar Manufacturing was identified as the source of PFAS contamination to the river system and installed additional filtration. State regulators say they will investigate the weekend release at the facility.

As for the drinking water, the closest drinking water intake is in Ann Arbor, officials said. It would take the contaminant at least several weeks to reach Ann Arbor’s water intakes. The city is taking steps to monitor incoming water, officials said. 

cwillliams@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @CWilliams_DN

Staff Writer Mark Hicks contributed