Madison Heights hazardous waste cleanup could last through holidays

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

Correction: The map on this article has been updated to reflect the correct location of the former Electro-Plating Services, 945 E. 10 Mile Road, Madison Heights.

Madison Heights — Hazardous waste cleanup and lane closures on Interstate 696 could last through the holidays as sampling from the site and monitoring are conducted after a yellow-green liquid chemical oozed onto the freeway Friday from a shuttered industrial site.

Jill Greenberg, a spokeswoman with the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy, said workers finished vacuuming sewers inside the former Electro-Plating Services, located at 945 East 10 Mile Road. The chemical migrated out of the building’s basement, moved underground and entered a storm sewer on eastbound I-696 near Couzens and the freeway service drive.

A green liquid seeps out of wall along the shoulder of the eastbound lanes of I-696 just west of Couzens Ave. in Madison Heights Friday afternoon.

Environmental officials said the liquid was identified as groundwater contaminated with hexavalent chromium, a chemical used in textile dyes, wood preservation and ink.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health lists hexavalent chromium as harmful to the eyes, skin and respiratory system, but EGLE officials said there is "no threat to drinking water or air quality."

"The water is migrating underground and findings it way down to the expressway," Greenberg said.

Department officials said in an email Saturday that the freeway embankment is "significantly impacted." On Sunday, in an update on the cleanup, EGLE said a pump was removing water from the basement of the business. 

"A basement sump is being used collect and remove water from the basement into a portable tank," Greenberg. "This reduces the water migrating offsite. This temporary system will continue under EPA/EGLE oversight until a long-term solution is in place."

Macomb County Public Works engineers and staff also aided in the cleanup. The spill happened outside Macomb County, but any material that enters storm drains along I-696 eventually travels to Lake St. Clair, officials said. 

Samples were taken for testing and those results are expected Tuesday. Repairs could last through the holidays, Greenberg said.

"Right now, it's just stabilization," said Greenberg. She could not release estimates on how much cleanup and monitoring will cost.  

"Those will become clear in the next few days. All agencies are collaborating on short-term and long-term solutions that will likely go through the holidays," she said, referring to agencies including EGLE, the EPA and Madison Heights Fire Department.

The company was issued a cease-and-desist order in December 2016 after inspectors discovered an estimated 5,000 corroded drums, vats and other containers of hazardous waste at the site, according to the EPA.

 A $2 million cleanup effort began in June 2017. Crews removed chemicals from the property but did not clean up soil or groundwater contamination.

"It was one of the most dramatic scenes I had seen of mismanagement of hazardous waste," said Tracy Kecskemeti, supervisor of the EPA's southeast Michigan district, in June 2017. “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.”

Since 1967, the company has used copper, tin, bronze, cadmium, nickel, chrome, gold, silver, zinc and lead for various electroplating operations, leaving behind hazardous wastes including sodium cyanide, trichloroethylene, or TCE, and lead, according to the EPA.

Last month, the former company was ordered to pay $1.5 million and its owner received one year in prison for illegally storing hazardous waste.

Federal officials said owner Gary Sayers "stonewalled" efforts and warnings for years to properly deal with the wastes. The EPA’s Superfund program spent what the company was fined to clean up and dispose of the wastes.

Twitter: @SarahRahal_