Shelby officials to meet with judge, others about industrial site contamination

By: Sherri Kolade | Shelby - Utica News | Published May 6, 2013

 Mounds of rubble sit atop the former Ford plant industrial site at 50500 Mound Road May 2.

Mounds of rubble sit atop the former Ford plant industrial site at 50500 Mound Road May 2.

Photo by Sherri Kolade

SHELBY TOWNSHP — Shelby Township officials hope that a Macomb County Circuit Court judge sees things their way in an upcoming early disposition settlement conference May 10, which may determine Ford Motor Company’s next step in cleaning up potentially cancer-causing contamination, trichloroethylene, found at the Mound Road Industrial site at 50500 Mound Road in 2012.

Shelby Township Attorney Rob Huth told the Shelby-Utica News that presiding Judge Richard Caretti will begin the process of getting the parties together and “getting this resolved.”

According to, trichloroethylene is a volatile organic chemical. It is a colorless or blue liquid with a chloroform-like odor. People who are exposed to it by drinking the contaminated water could experience problems with their liver and may have an increased risk of getting cancer.

Although Ford sold the Mound Road Industrial site property, the company retained any legal responsibility for potential findings, such as contamination. Because the parceled property belongs to Farmington Hills-based Grand Sakwa Properties, L.L.C. and Indiana Metals, Shelby Township is not responsible or liable for the contamination.

“We allowed Indiana Metals to demolish this site under certain terms,” Huth said during an April 24 meeting, “and one was to have it environmentally sound and to do so by May 2013, but Ford owed a duty to Indiana Metals to make sure this site is in order, environmentally.”

Grand Sakwa Properties, L.L.C. representatives declined to give a statement, and Indiana Metals’ representatives did not return calls by press time.

In November 2010, Indiana Metals bought the 1,870,480-square-foot facility for $3.5 million.

In August 2012, Shelby Township officials discovered the contamination, which could be released into the air and waterways, at the former Ford Motor Co. plant.

The initial findings were the result of the township contacting Dragun Corp. to find out the extent of possible groundwater pollution from the plant that operated in Shelby from the 1960s to 2009.

Concerns were raised about possible contamination of areas surrounding the site when Dragun Corp. found a portion of contaminated groundwater east of the plant, which 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. purchased 337 acres around the plant in 1962 and operated the plant until its 2009 closing. Ford has yet to formulate a figure of how much the contamination will potentially cost to clean up.

Township officials said Dragun estimated the cost to be about $150 million.

During the roughly three-hour township meeting April 24 at Township Hall, township Supervisor Rick Stathakis and Huth discussed plans for remedying the contaminated areas; they also introduced James Dragun, who discussed an 8,064-page report that his Farmington Hills-based company compiled on environmental contamination at the site.

“It is evident that contamination is coming from the former Ford plant, and the contaminated area is at least twice the size of what we originally reported in August of 2012,” Dragun said during the meeting. “And the contamination in groundwater has most likely migrated to Shelby Township’s ballpark property, which is located to the east of the former Ford plant and the boundary of the Manors at Central Park subdivision to the south.”

Dragun said that, although immediate danger is not evident, a threat is possible.

“There is a threat because we did find, at the very near boundary of the Ford plant and the Manors subdivision, 17 parts per billion of TCE. And we know the groundwater is going in the direction of the homes.”

Huth told the Shelby-Utica News that the contaminants are likely from a process in which solvents are put on parts before they are shipped to clean them.

“Somehow, (the chemical) ended up in the ground, and it is a dangerous chemical if exposed to certain levels,” Huth said. “And it may be a cancer-causing chemical. We believe it has clearly ended up in the ground as a result of Ford Motor Co.’s operations there, and needs to be cleaned up.”

Stathakis called the contamination a “problem.”

“Ford needs to clean up its mess immediately, and do so to the township’s satisfaction as precisely laid out by our expert, Dr. James Dragun,” Huth said.

“The residents should know that we have said to the courts, ‘Here is how we want it clean,’” Huth said. “We are waiting for Ford Motor Co.’s response to that. I have a feeling that Caretti will be looking for that (response) May 10. We’ll see what happens when we get to court.”

Ford spokesman Todd Nissen gave an emailed statement to the Shelby-Utica News and declined to make any follow-up comments.

“Ford is continuing to conduct an extensive investigation on the property and are working with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to determine what actions, if any, need to be taken,” the email read. “We have kept local residents apprised of our activities and will continue to do so as the process develops. Because this issue is in litigation, it’s not appropriate to comment on terms of property sales or potential liability issues. We take this issue seriously and remain committed to doing what is right for the community and the environment.”

The township meeting reviewed the 8,064-page report, which described Dragun’s environmental assessment of the former Ford/Visteon site. Dragun made 63 soil borings to evaluate the soil quality, installed 61 temporary monitoring wells, and collected and analyzed 16 soil samples and 58 groundwater samples.

The site investigation occurred between Sept. 19 and Nov. 30, 2012, according to the report.

Recently, Huth said that, although the “testing at the site is complete,” the township is seeking further tests to ensure the residents are safe.

“Dr. Dragun has told the residents he believes the ballparks are safe, right now,” he said, “and the site needs to be cleaned up so that things do not worsen in the area.”

Stathakis said he requested further testing of the baseball diamonds to “ensure” that residents will have safe recreation there.

“We did the same thing last year,” Stathakis said, “even though Dr. Dragun said we don’t need to be concerned about it. We just wanted to make sure that threat is 100 percent not there.”

On May 2, Shelby Township officials sent out a letter to MDEQ  representatives overseeing the contamination cleanup process, and they requested that they be included in any future meetings Ford has regarding the contamination site. MDEQ District Supervisor Paul Owens did not address the letter because he said he did not receive it by press time.

Owens said MDEQ’s main role is to protect human health and the environment, and to facilitate the redevelopment and safe reuse of contaminated property.

“We realize the former Ford property is vacant and our main objective is to make sure the residents are safe,” he said during a May 3 phone interview. “We haven’t seen any instances of there being immediate exposure threats, but there is still some data to look at. (Ford is) the responsible party and they are acting like it.”

Owens added that the contamination found in the industrial site is at a level of 17 parts per billion and that level is “designated as being safe,” but not safe enough to drink.

“Vapor intrusion (breathing it in) is the main issue right now,” he said. “We are looking at the data one more time. Seventeen parts per billion is a very small concentration. It is a very small, conservative number. If you have a billion of something and then 17 compared to 1 billion, that is your concentration.”

He said MDEQ representatives, who oversee Ford’s investigation, have met with Ford several times within the last year and they plan to have a meeting in mid-May to discuss the information collected.

“They will present all the information they collected recently and we are going to give them our feedback on what they need to do next,” he said. “They have been very committed to investigating the site and have not presented a cleanup plan.”

He said they are working toward presenting a plan.

Shelby Township resident Jessica Martins said recently that she hopes the contamination is taken care of soon.

“I know my mother-in-law’s house has well water,” she said. “I didn’t know anything about it and I’ve lived here my whole life and drove past it all the time. That is kind of scary. You don’t want to have contaminants in anything.”

For more information, go to Hard copies of the environmental contamination report are available at the municipal building at 52700 Van Dyke Ave.