Officials say source of Warren E.coli contamination identified

By: Brian Louwers | Warren Weekly | Published January 11, 2018

WARREN — At least one source of E. coli has been identified in Warren as a probe continues into the possible causes of contaminants flowing into the Red Run Drain.

Macomb County Public Works Commissioner Candice Miller, who met reporters on the bank of the Red Run Drain in December to announce an inquiry after the discovery of two bacterial “hot spots,” said her office worked with inspectors from the city of Warren to identify a problem at an industrial business near 11 Mile Road and Bunert Road. While the business was not identified, management was reportedly notified of an improperly connected sanitary sewer line, likely tied into a county storm sewer “for years.”

The investigation remained ongoing at press time to determine whether any other businesses in the area have improper connections.

“We are now working with the city and the business to fix this issue,” Miller said. “We find it, we fix it. We have to eliminate this first source before we can reinvestigate the storm drain along 11 Mile Road for any other illicit connections. If we find more, we will work with Warren to ensure the necessary corrections are made.”

Warren Mayor Jim Fouts said the city’s own initial testing to determine the source of the problem indicated that the contamination could have been the result of animal waste from a nearby horse farm.

“More recent testing indicated that there might also be a problem related to an illicit connection from an industrial building in the area,” Fouts said. “Both potential sources have been cited and eliminated.”

The mayor said “little or no flow” was detected at a second location where the county previously detected E. coli bacteria, near 14 Mile Road and Schoenherr Road, and that the conditions there made the problem “difficult to track.”

“Samples taken under these conditions are probably not representative,” Fouts said. “City crews did find a raccoon’s nest in a catch basin. There are also many rear yard drains in this area, which potentially could contribute to fecal material from animals.

“Based on the information available thus far, it appears that the source may be from animal waste,” Fouts added.

The probe began after a kayaker contacted Miller’s office about a “sheen” on the Red Run Drain, north of 14 Mile Road near Dodge Park, in Sterling Heights, not far from where the storm drains enter the waterway. An investigation ensued, and water quality tests taken at two locations in Warren revealed “off the charts” levels of E. coli bacterial contamination.

Fouts said the “sheen,” however, was most likely from oil runoff and not related to the findings of E. coli bacteria.   

The mayor said city engineers immediately acted to address the situation after the county tested samples taken from drains in Warren. The city has 746 outlets to drains, which must adhere to standards set by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.

Both Miller and Fouts said there are ongoing programs designed to find and correct illicit sanitary sewer connections responsible for bacterial contamination of open waterways.

Fouts stressed that it was important to note that the presence of E. coli did not affect Warren’s drinking water or pose any health hazard to residents, but that monitoring to ensure compliance would continue.

The Red Run Drain flows through Warren north into Sterling Heights. The water eventually enters the Clinton River and moves out into Lake St. Clair.

E. coli bacterial contamination can be the result of human or animal waste in the water. Dangerously high levels have required the closure of beaches in metro Detroit during the warm-weather months.