State bars Lockhart Chemical from discharging wastewater into Flint River after spill

Kayla Ruble
The Detroit News

A Flint chemical company with a history of environmental violations in Genesee County has been barred by state regulators from using its leaky sewage pipes to discharge wastewater from the facility, following a chemical spill in the Flint River in June. 

The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) issued the order against Lockhart Chemical Co. on Monday, with Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel announcing the action during an afternoon press conference in Flint. 

Nessel said Lockhart was given multiple opportunities to correct problems with its wastewater and discharge systems at its Flint facility that led to the chemical spill, but she said the company had "simply refused" to fix the issues. 

"I made a commitment to the residents of Flint that I would not stand by and allow any entity to endanger the health, safety, or welfare of this community, and today I am making good on my promise," Nessel said.

"I will not allow a company to threaten the safety of residents and the health of our environment here or anywhere else." 

An oil boom is shown stretched across the Flint River on June 15, just downriver from the Flint River Trail bridge.

The action came out of a months-long investigation by EGLE, the Attorney General's Office, and the Genesee County Sheriff's Department.

Genesee County Sheriff Chris Swanson joined Nessel to announce the order, saying the efforts were "a true example of bureaucracies working together for the good of the people."

The chemical spill was detected and reported by a local fisherman in mid-June. Emergency crews removed 20,000 gallons of the substance from the river and the company's sewer outfall system that discharges into the waterway. 

EGLE used a "chemical fingerprinting" process to confirm that the oily substance in the Flint River had originated from Lockhart Chemical Co.'s facility located on James P. Cole Boulevard not far from the river. State environmental regulators have estimated several thousands of gallons of the oily substance spilled into the Flint River when the spill was discovered on June 15.

A glossy substance floats past Lilly pads on the Flint River due to a reported spill north of downtown Flint, Michigan on June 15, 2022.

Lockhart will be required to pump its wastewater into above-ground storage tanks until it has taken steps to fix its faulty underground sewage discharge system and corrected the violations cited by EGLE.

In August, the environmental agency issued citations against Lockhart, saying the company had failed to improve its operations and continued to violate its discharge permit in the weeks after the spill. Lockhart did not meet the September 16 deadline to address the issues.

Lockhart has a history of violations related to storage of hazardous material at its Flint site, state environmental records dating back to 2016 show.

The company did not respond to a request for comment on Monday.

Lockhart Chemical Co.'s plant on James P. Cole Boulevard in Flint has storm sewers that drain into the Flint River.

The spill does not affect Flint's drinking water. The city purchases Lake Huron water from Detroit. There are no drinking water intakes in the Flint River.

Genesee County Commissioner Domonique Clemons thanked the community for being vocal and speaking up when they saw a problem, which he said paved the way for the investigation into the chemical spill.

Clemons said the enforcement against Lockhart showed state and local officials were focused on holding people and companies accountable.

"When it comes to environmental justice often communities such as Flint and Genesee County, communities of color, low-income communities, they get hit the hardest and they get hit the worst and oftentimes with no recourse," Clemons said.

"We are saying together that’s not what’s going to happen here in Flint, that’s not how things are happening anymore in Genesee County."