Shelby TownshipSeptember 5, 2012
Environmental scientists examine township properties for extent of pollution
By Brad D. Bates
C & G Staff Writer
SHELBY TOWNSHIP — To hear James Dragun explain it, Shelby Township has some serious plumbing issues around the old Ford/Visteon plant at 50500 Mound Road.
While walking around property adjacent to the plant Aug. 22, Dragun said his teams from Dragun Corp. are testing groundwater wells on the site of the plant, as well as examining the land surrounding it.
“You have to think of it like a bath tub,” Dragun said of the possible contamination.
“If you have a bath tub that is overflowing, and the spigot is leaking, you can’t just bail the water out. You have to fix the spigot and drain the water.”
Shelby Township and Grand Sakwa Properties LLC contracted Dragun Corp. to investigate the extent of possible groundwater pollution from the plant that was in operation from the 1960s into 2009.
Concerns were raised about possible contamination of areas surrounding the site when Dragun Corp. found a “plume” of contaminated groundwater east of the plant that is two-thirds of a mile long and 1,000 feet wide where it crosses the property’s boundary into surrounding areas.
Ford Motor Co., which purchased 337 acres around the plant in 1962 and operated the plant until it shuttered in 2009, disputes that there is any contamination outside of the plant’s property, but said they have yet to conduct testing in the adjacent parcels.
“We are in the process of gathering environmental data to determine what actions, if any, need to be taken at the site, and have met with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and local residents to keep them apprised of our activities,” Ford communications manager Becky Sanch said in an email.
“We have not seen any data to support that anything is leaving the former plant site and moving into the neighboring community. Ford remains committed to doing what is right for the community and the environment.”
Dragun said “fixing the spigot” entails finding the source of the contaminants, which are two volatile organic compounds known as trichloroethene (TCE) and 1,1,1-Trichloroethane (TCA), with “invasive” testing on the plant’s grounds using a series of wells.
“We’ve got part one of what will probably be many parts of a study on the Ford/Visteon property going on right now,” Dragun said. “We are drilling monitoring wells and placing them at different depths.
“The reason we study groundwater flow is that groundwater is the agent that pushes chemicals from point A to point B,” Dragun added.
“So if we understand the direction of groundwater flow and the depth of groundwater flow, and we understand the speed of groundwater flow, we can understand how far a chemical goes, where it’s going and how fast it’s moving.”
Once he determines the source of the pollution and the level of dispersal at that spot, Dragun hopes to also know the level of contamination in the surrounding properties, such as those owned by Grand Sakwa, which sit between the plant and Shelby Township’s Ford Field Central Park near 23 Mile Road and Van Dyke Avenue.
He said the “non-invasive” investigation on that property is twofold in that it is searching for the extent of the contamination flow from the plant, as well as any additional contamination from other sources.
“(In) a non-invasive study, we use equipment that can be nicely described as your everyday, normal metal detector on steroids,” Dragun said.
“It’s a very high-powered piece of equipment that emits radio waves with the idea of identifying subsurface structures from 25 feet up to 50 feet deep. So what we’re interested in looking at is if there is the existence of any metal structures, in particular buried drums or buried barrels.”
That non-invasive investigation was being performed by a team from Geosphere Inc. out of Auburn, Mich., which Dragun contracted.
“We take a reading every two feet and the lines are 20 feet apart,” Geosphere Inc. geophysicist Matt Glaccum said of the non-invasive testing process. “We try to mix it up a little bit.
“We have to go back to the office to process the data, so it’s nice we’re not in the office all the time, and we’re not in the field all the time.”
While his investigation of the site is ongoing, Dragun said residents in nearby areas shouldn’t worry about exposure, because drinking water and bathwater provided by the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department is unaffected.
He said the only source of exposure to contaminated groundwater may come through vapor or irrigation wells, but even that may not be affected.
Tests performed by Paragon Laboratories July 24 for the Manors Condo Association, which is located southeast of the plant, on wells 113-feet deep near the site showed “no detectable levels of TCE, TCA or any other volatile organic compounds.”
“Paragon tested the samples for any measurable traces of (74) different types of VOCs, including TCA and TCE, which have been detected in groundwater samples taken,” a post on the association’s website, manorsat centralpark.blogspot.com, said.
“Please be aware that we use our well only for watering the sides and top of the landscaped berm along the north and west perimeter of our property. The landscaping in the rear yards backing up to the berm are watered using municipal drinking water, as are all of the remainder of our landscaped areas.”
But Dragun said it is still important for complete testing to take place for a clear picture of the extent of the possible pollution now rather than later.
Of course, getting that picture of roughly 400 acres can take time when there is no notion of what they can expect to find. First, data must be collected and then analyzed, which may lead to the need for further collection.
“It’s like that 10,000-piece jigsaw puzzle,” Dragun said, noting it was too soon to speculate on results. “Some pieces you can find and put in place, and you’ll still have no idea what you’re looking at.
“Then other pieces will make it a little more clear, but you still don’t know exactly what you’re looking at until you’re done.”
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