Ford finds contaminated groundwater near Livonia plant

Michael Martinez
The Detroit News

Ford Motor Co. is testing the area around its Livonia Transmission Plant after discovering vinyl chloride in the groundwater on the east side of the plant.

The Dearborn automaker on Wednesday said samples with the potentially cancer-causing chemical were found seven feet or more underground and pose no health risk to residents. It also said drinking water — which is taken from the city of Detroit and the Great Lakes Water Authority — is not at risk.

But in light of the Flint water crisis, Ford said it’s determining the extent of the affected area and on Wednesday sent out letters to 110 Livonia residents describing the additional testing it will soon begin.

“This work is simply in an abundance of caution after a chemical — vinyl chloride — from past, historic manufacturing processes was identified in underground water (at depths of seven feet and greater) while making upgrades at the plant,” plant manager Robert A. Groden said in the letter. “Ford will be aggressive in investigating this and taking steps to mitigate, if needed, to continue our deep commitment and track record of being environmentally responsible and sustainable.”

According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer, vinyl chloride is known to cause cancers in humans. Studies have found elevated risks of liver, brain and lymphatic tumors. It also can cause liver damage and birth defects.

Ford said testing showed concentrations of vinyl chloride as high as 28 parts per billion in some areas; most tested between 12 and 13 parts per billion. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency sets a limit of 2 parts per billion in drinking water.

Ford said the contamination came from trichloroethylene, a chemical used at the plant as a degreasing parts cleaner until the 1980s. That broke down into the hazardous chemical vinyl chloride, which Ford found in groundwater at the plant this summer while upgrading the plant.

The automaker has had discussions with the city of Livonia and Michigan Department of Environmental Quality about the issue.

“Our top concern is the safety of our residents,” said Dave Varga, director of administrative services for the city of Livonia.

He said the city has also hired an independent consultant to look at the data, but hasn’t discovered “anything that would lead us to believe the information provided isn’t correct.”

Paul Owens, district supervisor for remediation and redevelopment for the DEQ, said the department was notified in August.

“There’s no indication of any public health issues out there,” he said. “Ford’s working to find the extent of contamination and we’re here to make sure they do.”

Ford said it will drill borings in the public right-of-way near neighboring properties to identify the location of the vinyl chloride and see if it has migrated offsite. The drilling will start Tuesday and will take two weeks to complete.

Residents will likely see crews working along Belden Court, Beacon, Boston Post and Wadsworth. The crew will work between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. on weekdays to minimize impact on the community.

In addition to underground water testing, Ford has conducted below-ground soil air sampling to assess outdoor and indoor air impacts, but those tests have found no impact to the air quality. The automaker said it’s unclear what cleanup procedures might be needed.

Ford will host a public information session 5-8 p.m. Monday in the ATO building at the plant. Ford said it will make testing results available to the public, which likely will be in mid-March.

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