Michigan protects workers from retaliation for having an abortion

State aid hike for vapor cleanup called inadequate

Michael Gerstein
The Detroit News

Lansing – Gov. Rick Snyder is poised to sign a $56.7 billion budget that includes more money to address potentially dangerous chemical vapors, a problem of unknown reach in Michigan that can leach into people’s homes through their basements.

The $300,000 or 23 percent bump to $1.6 million for vapor intrusion approved by the state House and Senate is far less than the $2.6 million that Michigan Department of Environmental Quality Director Heidi Grether requested in February.

At the time, Grether told lawmakers that as many as 4,000 locations in Michigan and many in Metro Detroit might host chemical vapors that can rise from the ground of former industrial or commercial sites into nearby homes. Grether called the issue a “significant public health threat.”

“We’re concerned that this could pose a significant public health threat,” Grether said then. “So we need additional staff and resources to evaluate the sites” and start mitigation projects where necessary.

The extra $1 million the department requested would have helped develop a detailed map showing the location all of the suspected vapor intrusion sites. The department can’t make that map with its current funding, said DEQ spokeswoman Melody Kindraka.

“As the budget stands right now, we do not have the additional resources to do that,” Kindraka said.

Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof said Thursday the money is enough for now.

“It’s enough to start,” Meekhof said.

Chemicals used for de-greasing metal and old dry cleaning chemicals have contaminated soil and groundwater in many areas of the state, according to the Michigan DEQ.

DEQ officials in February were investigating 14 “high priority” Metro Detroit sites in February where chemical vapors might have been a problem and say thousands of sites across the state could be potentially harmful to human health.

The Legislature approved $300,000 more than last year to help mitigate and research “vapor intrusion,” or vapors from toxic chemicals at old metal de-greasing sites and dry cleaners that can leach up from the ground into people’s homes or businesses — often in poorer urban areas.

Chemicals used for de-greasing metal and old dry cleaning chemicals have contaminated soil and groundwater in many areas of the state, according to the Department of Environmental Quality.

Rep. David LaGrand, D-Grand Rapids, said he’s concerned the state isn’t adequately addressing the problem because landlords may not always tell tenants or even know if there’s an issue with old chemicals at a property, “and this is something that’s silent and potentially deadly.”

“A see-no-evil, hear-no-evil approach to environmental problems is not my favorite approach,” LaGrand said.

In Detroit, several tenants renting rooms at 2051 Rosa Parks were evacuated on Nov. 14, 2016, after officials discovered a vapor intrusion problem. The property was closed by the Detroit health department after a private environmental consultant found trichloroethylene, or TCE, in the indoor air.

Lincoln Brass Works used to own the property and had operated pits full of the chemical to use as a metal de-greaser.

An urban renewal nonprofit called Seeds of Promise was evacuated from its Grand Rapids property last summer before the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency began addressing legacy pollution problems at the property. High levels of perchloroethylene or “PERC” were found. It’s now an EPA Superfund site.

PERC can cause liver tumors or neuro-toxicity, such as decreased color vision or brain function.

TCE can cause dizziness, fatigue, skin rashes or headaches in the short term. It can damage the nervous system, kidneys or liver and cause developmental issues over the long run.

In February, DEQ and HHS were looking into sites in Canton Township, Dearborn, Detroit, Inkster, Livonia, Dearborn Heights, Wyandotte and Plymouth.

The DEQ found high levels of PERC at 260 Lilley in Canton Township, where a dry cleaner used to operate. Other “high priority” sites include former dry cleaners at 5320 Schaefer in Dearborn, one in Inkster, the existing Ford Livonia Transmission Plant and the USA Investment Co. LLC in Dearborn Heights, according to the department.