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Site stabilized, EPA hands off 'green ooze' cleanup to state environmental agency

Mike Martindale
The Detroit News

Madison Heights — A representative for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said Tuesday it had completed its emergency response to groundwater contamination at the former Electro-Plating Services, having spent $3.1 million, and will pass oversight on to state officials.

"Our goal was to stabilize the site ... and return the site to EGLE for long-term remediation," said Tricia Edwards of the EPA during an online update, referring to the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy. She discussed over a year's work at a "very complicated site." 

Edwards said weekly monitoring for hazardous chemicals at the Madison Height site in recent months showed "no imminent threat to humans or the environment."

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.

The EPA told residents in August that remediation at the former site could cost taxpayers $4 million. Nearly 354,000 gallons of contaminated water and materials have been transported off the site and disposed of because of high levels of several chemicals, including hexavelant chromium, trichlorethylene, PFAS or perfluorooctanoic substances, and cyanide. More likely is beneath two buildings that will be demolished under the supervision of EGLE.

Edwards credited a federal effort to neutralize underground chemicals along a freeway embankment wall with reducing the threat. 

"The science is working," she said. 

Tracy Kicskemeti of EGLE said more than $4.6 million has been spent on cleanup efforts. She said while there is no "imminent threat to the public," much work still needs to be done at the site.

Yellow-green liquid containing toxic chemicals oozed onto the bank of Interstate 696 in December 2019 from the basement of the electro-plating operation.

In July, the EPA launched a pilot study for treating the contamination by injecting treatment chemicals, called reagents, directly into the soil. They added a treatment at the site to provide a permeable barrier.

Initial studies found 80% of the contaminants were removed. 

Gary Sayers of Bloomfield Hills, the owner of the Electro-Plating Services buildings, was sentenced to a year in federal prison last year after pleading guilty to illegal handling of hazardous waste at the defunct site and two other buildings. Sayers was given early release in April and assigned to home confinement.

Four members of Michigan's congressional delegation have asked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for more help cleaning up green ooze

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 $1.5 million cleanup effort began in June 2017. Crews removed chemicals from the property but did not clean up soil or groundwater contamination.

Since 1967, the company has used copper, tin, bronze, cadmium, nickel, chrome, gold, silver, zinc and lead for electroplating operations, leaving behind the hazardous waste, according to the EPA.