A green-tinted liquid oozed onto I-696 in Madison Heights Dec. 20, reportedly originating from Electro-Plating Services Inc., which was closed in late 2016 when local and state authorities raised concerns about conditions at the facility.

A green-tinted liquid oozed onto I-696 in Madison Heights Dec. 20, reportedly originating from Electro-Plating Services Inc., which was closed in late 2016 when local and state authorities raised concerns about conditions at the facility.

File photo by Deb Jacques


Cancerous ooze leaks out of Madison Heights industrial site onto I-696

Officials: No threat to residents, drinking water

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published December 23, 2019

 One of the concerns that state officials had with Electro-Plating Services was the risk of cyanide and hydrochloric acid on-site combining with large amounts of water to produce a highly toxic cloud of hydrogen cyanide.

One of the concerns that state officials had with Electro-Plating Services was the risk of cyanide and hydrochloric acid on-site combining with large amounts of water to produce a highly toxic cloud of hydrogen cyanide.

File photo provided by the MDEQ

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"We need to make sure that we understand the full extent of this problem and make absolutely certain that everything is contained and cleaned up, and that this never happens anywhere in the city."

David Soltis, Madison Heights City Councilman

MADISON HEIGHTS — The weekend before Christmas, officials at all levels of government contended with the cleanup of a Grinch-colored goo gushing out of the embankment on eastbound Interstate 696.

The source of the toxic mess? The basement of the shuttered Electro-Plating Services in Madison Heights — the same business that previously posed a risk of creating a highly toxic cloud of hydrogen cyanide in a high-density area.  

The bright green goo was groundwater contaminated with suspected hexavalent chromium, also known as chromium-6 — the same heavy metal that poisoned the town of Hinkley, California, as depicted in the 2000 biographical film “Erin Brockovich.”

According to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, there are a litany of side effects associated with the chemical, including respiratory cancer, kidney damage and liver damage. But officials say there is no immediate threat to Madison Heights residents, and that the city’s drinking water is not compromised.

The substance began spurting out of the retaining wall the afternoon of Dec. 20. The incident closed the right lane near 10 Mile Road and Couzens Avenue, past Interstate 75, causing a rush hour traffic jam. The Michigan Department of Transportation also closed the I-696 service drive in the area.

A hazardous materials team descended on the scene. Although the road is in Oakland County, Macomb County Public Works was involved since any material that enters storm drains along I-696 eventually reaches Lake St. Clair.

“Pollution knows no county or city boundaries,” said Macomb County Public Works Commissioner Candice Miller in a statement. “Our first duty is to protect our local water, and we stand ready to assist our federal and state partners to contain this material.”

Other groups involved in the cleanup and testing included the Superfund Technical Assessment and Response Team (START); the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE), formerly known as the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ); the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services; and the Michigan State Police.

    
The source
The contaminated groundwater reportedly originated from the now-shuttered Electro-Plating Services, 945 E. 10 Mile Road.

The company made recent headlines when it was sentenced Nov. 5 in federal court in Detroit to five years of probation, and ordered to pay restitution of nearly $1.5 million to the EPA, to be paid jointly with the business owner, Gary Sayers, who himself was sentenced to one year in prison, followed by three years of supervised release. The sentence was handed down by Judge Stephen Murphy after accepting the guilty plea to a federal felony charge of hazardous waste storage Feb. 14.

As part of the plating process, Electro-Plating Services used chemicals such as cyanide, chromium, nickel, chloride, trichloroethylene, and various acids and bases, all of which become hazardous wastes once they’ve served their purpose.

Rather than legally transporting the waste to a licensed hazardous waste facility in compliance with the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, Sayers instead stored the waste in drums and other containers, as well as a pit dug into the ground of the lower level. Authorities say he then proceeded to stonewall state efforts to gain compliance. The EPA’s Superfund program spent nearly $1.5 million cleaning up and disposing the waste — the amount ordered in restitution.  

Madison Heights Fire Chief Gregory Lelito previously said that he first raised concerns about Electro-Plating Services during an annual inspection in the spring of 2016. The MDEQ then issued a cease-and-desist order that December after declaring an imminent substantial hazard, something that has only been done one other time in the 30-some-year history of the MDEQ’s hazmat program.

The order followed a joint inspection in November 2016 between the Madison Heights Fire Department and the MDEQ. That’s when they discovered an estimated 5,000 containers of hazardous waste and materials, many of them improperly stored, unlabeled, open and corroded, or in very poor condition. Chemical spills were also found throughout the facility, and chemicals and waste were stockpiled in disarray. The building itself was severely dilapidated, with blocked exits posing fire hazards to workers, and entry points leaving the building open to vandals.

There was also a risk that the combination of cyanide and hydrochloric acid on-site with large amounts of water could produce a highly toxic cloud of hydrogen cyanide in a high-density area. Electro-Plating Services is within 500 feet of residential neighborhoods and within a 1-mile radius of the intersection of I-696 and I-75, which serve 350,000 vehicles per day. It’s also near day cares, schools and senior living facilities. Flammable and combustible materials on-site posed another risk.  

    
What’s next
EPA crews vacuumed the sewers the night following the incident, and installed a sump pump in the basement of Electro-Plating Services, forcing the liquid into a portable tank, reducing the levels there and preventing more from migrating off-site. At press time, the catch basins on the highway were also going to be pumped again.  

The incident has some elected officials scratching their heads as to how life-threatening contaminants continue to leak out of the property when it’s been a known hazard site and the focus of cleanup efforts for years.  

Madison Heights City Councilman Robert Corbett said he found the timing curious.

“What strikes me as odd about the whole thing … is presumably that stuff (chromium-6) has been there for ages, and yet now, just four weeks after (Sayers’) sentencing or thereabouts, it starts showing up,” Corbett said. “I’ve asked questions about that and I keep being told it was probably on the property for a long time. Maybe, but why is it leaking out now?”  

Madison Heights City Councilman David Soltis said he will be seeking full transparency.

“This environmental disaster was uncovered all the way back in 2016, and yet there were still contaminants at the site, seeping out of the ground. And this happened after the EPA had conducted its cleanup. We need to make sure that we understand the full extent of this problem and make absolutely certain that everything is contained and cleaned up, and that this never happens anywhere in the city. And we need to make sure that the public is made fully aware of what’s going on here,” Soltis said. “It looks like they have the current situation under control — but I still have questions that I feel the public deserves answered.” 

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