Plan emerges for clean up of 'green ooze' site in Oakland County

Mike Martindale
The Detroit News

Madison Heights — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the state announced a plan Tuesday to treat groundwater contamination at the former Electro-Plating Services by injecting treatment chemicals into the soil and treating the contaminants in place.

As groundwater naturally migrates through the soil, the chemicals used to treat the pollutants will flow through the injection areas between the Electro-Plating Services building in Madison Heights and the Interstate 696 service drive, as well as along the top of the I-696 embankment, according to the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy.

As groundwater naturally migrates through the soil, the chemicals used to treat the pollutants will flow through the injection areas between the Electro-Plating Services building in Madison Heights and the Interstate 696 service drive, according to EGLE.

Treatment with the chemicals, called reagents, will begin next month, EGLE said. The extent of the contamination remains undetermined.

The facility was determined to be the source of green ooze that ran along a freeway in Madison Heights.

EGLE requested the EPA's help at the site in December when yellow-green liquid containing toxic chemicals from the electro-plating facility seeped from the former business onto the shoulder of I-696.

Contaminants at the site include hexavalent chromium, trichloroethylene, cyanide, and per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances. The EPA has collected 260,540 gallons of contaminated groundwater and hauled it off-site for treatment and disposal. While effective, the method of treatment is not sustainable long-term because it is both costly and resource intensive, according to an EGLE news release Tuesday.

Gary Sayers of Bloomfield Hills, the owner of the Electro-Plating Services buildings was sentenced this year to a year in federal prison after pleading guilty to illegal handling of hazardous waste at the defunct site and two other buildings along East Ten Mile Road in Madison Heights.

Sayers was given early release last month and is assigned to home confinement. A July 8 hearing in his civil trial is set for July 8 before Oakland Circuit Judge Hala Jarbou, who will hear arguments about why the building should not be demolished as requested by the city, which condemned the property and declared it a public nuisance.

A city spokesman could not be reached for comment Tuesday. Sayers’ attorney, James Sullivan, said he had not seen the cleanup plan.

“I had heard they were working on some plan but have not seen it,” said Sullivan. “We are interested in stopping the demolition.”

The state and EPA evaluated several options and selected in-place treatment as the remedy for the contamination at the site.

Under the plan, treatment chemicals that degrade contaminants will be injected into the subsurface soil between the building and the service drive, as well as along the top of the I-696 embankment. As groundwater naturally migrates through the soil, it will flow through the injection areas and the contaminants will be treated in place.

The plan creates a long-term management process that protects residents and natural resources.

The EPA will conduct sampling to ensure the treatment is effective before decommissioning the current groundwater collection system. The EPA expects to transfer the site to EGLE in December to maintain the new treatment system.

It is estimated that the treatment materials may need to be replaced every three to five years.

Jill Greenberg, a representative for EGLE, described the cleanup as a multi-phase effort, which began with the sump pumps and removal of barrels of waste.

“The next phase, as described, is the treatment of the ground water, and once that is completed and the building has been brought down, we can safely go inside there and excavate soil around the hole where Gary Sayers poured toxic chemicals for years. But that demolition still is pending in the court and we will likely do that once it goes through and everything else has been completed.”

Legal proceedings are underway to authorize demolition and removal of the Electro-Plating building. When the building is removed, the removal of contaminated soils will be undertaken. "This is a multi-phase cleanup," explained Jill Greenberg, an EGLE spokesperson. "The sump pumps which have already been used. The treating of the groundwater as described. And once that is done and the building has been taken down, we can get in and excavate and remo

He has been ordered to pay back more than $1.4 million already spent by the EPA to clean up the site.

According to court records and testimony, the worst of the buildings, Electro Plating Services, had 5,000 leaking canisters overflowing with various chemicals into two earthen pits filled with a greenish liquid in the basement, which contain high levels of chromium, cyanide and other hazardous waste.

State and federal officials believe thousands of gallons of waste seeped into the soil and groundwater and eventually made its way north a couple of hundred feet along I-696 on Dec. 20, prompting the closure of one lane and an exit.

Since then, EGLE and the EPA have vacuumed thousands of gallons of waste from the pits for safe disposal off site. Other Sayers properties, on Commonwealth Street in Detroit and outside Metro Detroit, are being reviewed for possible contaminants.

Officials in Macomb County are monitoring cleanup efforts at the Madison Heights site and have expressed concern that Sayers’ disposal strategy involved a pipe leading into the sewer system that eventually flowed into several creeks and Lake St. Clair.