Federal lawmakers ask EPA for more help cleaning up I-696 ooze
Members of Michigan’s congressional delegation are requesting additional assistance from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to test and remediate a Madison Heights business and the green ooze believed to be draining from it onto Interstate 696.
The Thursday letter to EPA Director Andrew Wheeler also seeks more information from the federal agency, including the chemicals believed involved, the contaminant’s reach and a reconsideration of the site for Superfund eligibility.
The letter is signed by Democratic U.S. Sens. Debbie Stabenow of Lansing and Gary Peters of Bloomfield Township, GOP U.S. Rep. Paul Mitchell of Dryden and Democratic U.S. Rep. Andy Levin of Bloomfield Township.
In response, the EPA noted its history at the site dating back to 2016 and its recent action taken to remove contamination traveling off the property.
"EPA remains on-site to monitor the situation and is coordinating closely with state and local officials on a long-term solution," the agency said in a statement.
The state appreciates the EPA's help so far and anticipates any future response to the incident will be a "joint effort" between the EPA and the state environmental department, said Hugh McDiarmid Jr., a spokesman for Michigan's Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy.
"We are glad for any assistance that we can have from the EPA because this is going to be a complex and lengthy investigation," he said.
The defunct Electro-Plating Services, owned by Gary Sayers and located on East 10 Mile in Madison Heights, was identified in late December as the source of a green ooze that spilled out on the shoulder of I-696 on Dec. 20.
Analysis of the ooze found high levels of hexavalent chromium, cyanide, trichloroethylene (a degreasing agent) as well as other metals and hazardous chemicals used in the prior business, officials have said. State environmental officials have said the Madison Heights building believed to be the source of the contaminants needs to come down to fully clean up the location.
Sayers reported to federal prison just after the New Year to begin serving a one-year sentence in federal prison after pleading guilty to illegal handling of hazardous waste.
EPA officials have characterized the mismanagement of waste at Sayers’ business as “unprecedented,” which should move the site up in priority among the various contaminated locations across the nation, the lawmakers said in their letter. There are homes, schools and day care centers in the surrounding area which also prompt concern, they said.
“EPA’s mission is to protect human health and the environment, and ensuring Michiganders’ access to clean and safe air and water is our shared priority,” the letter said. “Unfortunately, we in Michigan know too well the consequences of government inaction when it comes to protecting drinking water.”
Specifically, the letter asks the EPA for additional help determining potential threats to human health and environment, and finding long-term remediation options for the site.
The lawmakers also asked the EPA to provide information on the type, risks and spread of the contaminants being tested on the property as well as potential pathways for the contaminants to spread into soil, air or water.
The letter requests the EPA to assess and inspect Sayers’ other properties and requests the EPA to determine long-term remediation for the site, including reconsideration of the site for Superfund designation.
"Those are all questions that we are asking also," McDiarmid said. "And the answers to most of those questions are going to be coming as soon as this testing is completed.”
In early 2019, the state identified significant contamination at the Madison Heights business but told the EPA there was no risk to drink water and a low probability of off-site migration. The EPA, based on the assessment, did not award the site Superfund eligibility.