Nearly 11,000 gallons of tainted water collected at ooze site

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

Madison Heights — As the EPA continues investigating a toxic leak from a shuttered chemical firm, officials say they have collected thousands of groundwater and soil samples to evaluate the contamination from a green ooze that appeared on Interstate 696.

Nearly 11,000 gallons of contaminated water have been collected from the former Electro-Plating Services building at 945 E. 10 Mile, a state department said Friday. 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 on Dec. 20. 

Marc Messina of Mannik Smith Group, collects water samples outside the facility where green ooze was recently detected seeping out and onto the shoulder of I-696 in Madison Heights, Michigan.

The liquid was identified as groundwater contaminated with hexavalent chromium, a cancer-causing chemical used in textile dyes, wood preservation and ink, according to the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, Energy. It appeared as a yellow-green liquid that prompted hazmat teams to respond.

Just before Christmas, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency installed two sump wells, which have collected the 11,000 gallons of contaminated water beneath the facility, state officials said. Had the embankment sump not been installed, the hazardous liquid would have entered the storm sewer, which leads eventually to Lake St. Clair, they said.

Since the incident, EPA contractors have drilled into 25 wells near the site for testing, which state officials said will help analysts evaluate the contamination.

Results are expected to be available in one or two weeks, Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy officials said Friday.

On Thursday, EGLE also sampled water at the point where the affected sewer system surfaces at Bear Creek to determine levels of contaminants entering the stream. The water eventually flows into the Clinton River and then Lake St. Clair.

Officials are testing for hexavalent chromium, heavy metals, volatile organic compounds and cyanide, which were kept in the basement of the Electro-Plating building. Results are expected late next week.

Contractors from Tetra Tech Engineering services company
use a drill to get 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, Michigan.

The Electro-Plating property is among thousands of contaminated sites that need to be more fully addressed, EGLE Director Liesl Clark said Friday.

"This situation highlights a long-term challenge that we must meet," Clark said in a statement. "Thousands of contaminated properties exist in Michigan, many having languished for decades without appropriate assessment or cleanup. That’s unacceptable in a state surrounded by almost 20% of the world’s fresh surface water."

She said a pollution inspection is underway, as requested by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

"We must clean up contaminated sites sooner. We must chase root causes, rather than symptoms of industrial pollution. Polluters must more aggressively address messes that they create. And we must ensure that those who protect us from these sites are provided the appropriate resources and tools to be successful."

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 began in June 2017. Crews removed chemicals from the property but did not clean up soil or groundwater contamination.

Gary Sayers of Bloomfield Hills isto begin serving a one-year federal prison sentence this month for illegally storing hazardous waste at the site.

Sayers, who has been described as an "industrial hoarder," has pleaded guilty to illegally storing hazardous waste without a permit. The city of Madison Heights has sued to have him ordered to demolish the buildings or be allowed to do the work itself if he doesn’t comply with a court order.

Jill Greenberg, a spokeswoman for EGLE, said Friday night the agency is investigating a property in Sanilac County's Marion Township that Sayers reportedly owns for possible contamination.

State Rep. Shane Hernandez, R-Port Huron, who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, said the panel will conduct hearings into that site, as well as the Madison Heights property.

“I am outraged by this situation," he said in a statement. "First we hear about the green ooze on I-696, and now we see this alarming situation in Sanilac County. We spend hundreds of millions of dollars cleaning up the environment and protecting health.

"Citizens demand that their tax dollars are spent effectively to protect public health, and they expect the state to respond quickly and effectively any time public health may be jeopardized. It is my intent to ensure accountability so that happens."

He said his committee will schedule hearings to "focus on what state environmental quality officials knew about possible contamination, when they knew about it, and what was done in response.”

Twitter: @SarahRahal_