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Madison Heights, Mich. — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has begun cleaning up a hazardous waste site at a former chemical plating plant just north of Detroit.

EPA officials said the $2 million cleanup effort began this week at the former Electro-Plating Service Inc. facility in Madison Heights.

The company was ordered to cease operations in December after the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality said it found an estimated 5,000 deteriorating drums and tanks full of toxic chemicals. The agency said inspectors suspected the chemicals were cyanides and hydrochloric acid, among other substances.

“It was one of the most dramatic scenes I had seen of mismanagement of hazardous waste,” said Tracy Kecskemeti, supervisor of the department’s southeast Michigan district. “For someone to operate this far outside the bounds of the law and typical industry practices is rare. We identified this as an exceedingly rare occurrence, and that’s what led to the dramatic action of the cease-and-desist order.”

Kecskemeti said that since the order, the site has been monitored regularly by the Madison Heights fire and police departments and the state Environmental Quality Department, which is concerned about a potential explosion.

Jeffrey Lippert, an EPA on-scene coordinator for Michigan and Ohio, said the cleanup is expected to last four months and is funded by the agency’s Superfund Redevelopment Initiative.

“Everybody’s in chemical-resistant boots, gloves and suits, wearing respirators (to avoid breathing toxic fumes), and we’re conducting air monitoring on the outside to see if anything is coming out of the site,” he said.

EPA spokeswoman Rachel Bassler declined to say if Electro-Plating President Gary Sayers will face criminal charges, but said the agency regularly takes legal action to collect the cost of cleanups from polluting companies and their owners.

Lippert said Sayers still owns the property, but can no longer resume plating operations.

Phone messages left by The Associated Press seeking comment from Sayers weren’t immediately returned.

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