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Cleanup at Electro-Plating Services enters next phase

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published July 17, 2020

File photo by Patricia O'Blenes

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MADISON HEIGHTS — The cleanup operation at Electro-Plating Services, or EPS, will begin a new approach in August.

Previously, sump pumps had been deployed to remove more than 260,000 gallons of groundwater laced with hazardous waste including hexavalent chromium — the cancer-causing chemical that gave the groundwater its sickly green hue when it first erupted onto Interstate 696 last year around Christmas.

Now, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, working with the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy, or EGLE, have selected in-situ treatment as the next step.

In-situ treatment is a process by which chemicals called reagents are injected into the soil to safely neutralize the hazardous contaminants that have collected underground. As the groundwater continues to migrate downhill, it will flow through the injection areas between the EPS building, located at 945 E. 10 Mile Road, and the embankment atop the I-696 service drive, and be cured.

“The current mitigation system — using sump pumps to collect the contaminated groundwater — was never meant to serve as a long-term solution. The new in-situ approach is an interim measure that is more cost-effective and treats the contaminants in place,” said Jill Greenberg, spokesperson for EGLE. “This serves as a long-term process that protects residents and natural resources.”

It should be noted that the contaminated groundwater has been mostly limited to the freeway and factory, due to the lay of the land. Furthermore, Madison Heights and other metro Detroit communities draw their drinking water from sealed municipal sources, so authorities say the area’s drinking water was never compromised.

The contaminants were pumped out of the pit in the factory’s basement where EPS owner Gary Sayers — now serving a federal prison sentence for his illegal storage of hazardous waste — dumped barrels of toxic chemicals into the earth.

Authorities also vacuum-cleaned the catch basins on I-696. They believe that any runoff that reached Lake St. Clair would be heavily diluted by that point, and thus harmless.

Ultimately, the goal is to demolish the EPS building and fully treat the property. Following a court hearing in Oakland County Circuit Court, the EPS building was condemned and declared a public nuisance, and ordered for demolition. Sayers, the owner, filed a motion to stay the demolition pending appeal and to amend the judgement, but the court denied this request.

“We will still need to meet with EPA and EGLE officials to determine a timetable for demolition and to discuss sources of funding and method,” said Madison Heights City Manager Melissa Marsh. “Gary Sayers is responsible for payment of the demolition. However, this may end up being an additional lien on the property.”

The state of Michigan has approved at least $600,000 to help cover demolition costs.

“EGLE stands ready to assist the EPA and Madison Heights to ensure the demolition takes place in a safe and legal manner,” Greenberg said.

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