State issues violation notice over asbestos at McLouth Steel site

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News
The former McLouth Steel Plant parcel as seen in November.

Trenton — State environmental regulators have flagged multiple asbestos-related violations at the former McLouth Steel plant on Jefferson amid demolition on the massive site. 

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality on Tuesday issued a violation notice tied to an asbestos inspection conducted on Jan. 11 at the site by its Air Quality Division, according to a copy of the notice released Thursday. 

During the investigation, the DEQ observed the company overseeing demolition removing galvanized metal siding coated in galbestos — a type of metal sheeting that is coated with asbestos — from a building on the south end of the property without the use of water, as required.

The state investigators, in the notice, list other alleged asbestos abatement-related violations and note "samples were collected during the inspection, and the materials all tested positive for asbestos."

The state — in its notice to 21st Century Salvage and Next Generation Environmental Inc., which are heading up the demolition project, as well as the property owner, Crown Enterprises Inc. — urged the companies to initiate actions to correct the violations. Crown Enterprises is owned by Manuel "Matty" Moroun.

The deadline for a written response to be submitted is Feb. 12. 

Crown Enterprises President Michael Samhat said Thursday the company has worked closely with the DEQ, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and its licensed vendors and contractors on site on a "very large and transparent process for this project."

Samhat noted the company is not self-performing work at the site. Rather it's hired a contractor that's performing the work and also has brought on a third-party consultant team that is overseeing the project. 

"We have great confidence in the people we vetted and hired. We did this in coordination with the EPA and the DEQ," he said. "If these are accurate violations, they are going to get resolved quickly because our contractors know that we want it done correctly. We've got multiple layers to see that work is done correctly at the site."

Samhat said McLouth is a "complicated site," and there are many factors that need to be considered.

Charles Martin, who heads 21st Century Salvage, could not be immediately reached Thursday for comment.

Meanwhile, lawmakers expressed concerns over the violations and the well-being of residents. 

U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn, in a statement said as the project proceeds "ensuring Downriver residents are safe will always be our number one priority."

"Although these reports of increased asbestos levels are deeply disturbing, the system worked — MDEQ was on site even though the EPA is shut down," Dingell said. "As soon as asbestos was found, immediate steps were taken to correct the problem and a violation notice was issued."

Trenton Mayor Kyle Stack told The Detroit News that the city was informed that there was a violation but that the DEQ "is on top of it." The concern, she said, is the first she's heard of since the demolition work began.

"From what I understand, they corrected it right away. We're just hoping there's nothing else to come," she said. "We don't want to put anybody in jeopardy, so we're glad the MDEQ is on top of it."

State Rep. Darrin Camilleri, D-Brownstown Township, added that proper cleanup of the site is "critical to the public health of our community."

“While it’s deeply frustrating that problems are arising so quickly in this demolition process, I’m glad the MDEQ inspected the site and sounded the alarm," he said. "I will continue to monitor the situation closely to ensure that these companies are held liable for any damages to our community.”

According to the DEQ’s notice, the National Emission Standard for Asbestos holds both the owner and operator liable for all violations.

Work at the site began in November after the Wayne County Land Bank transferred the deed for the property to Crown Enterprises. The company paid $4 million for the site in 2017.

The facility near West Jefferson and Sibley had operated until the 1990s after the company filed for bankruptcy.

Under a proposal approved by the Wayne County Commission, Crown will raze 45 buildings on the site within two years and invest $20 million in six years. Officials have said there's potential for automotive manufacturing and logistics centers there. 

The EPA, DEQ and U.S. Department of Justice approved a legal agreement involving the purchase, assessment and clean-up of the property.

Some of the site was suspected to contain PCBs and potentially hazardous materials that could become airborne during the cleanup process.