Electro-Plating Services Inc., 945 E. 10 Mile Road in Madison Heights, was closed in late 2016 when local and state authorities raised concerns about conditions at the facility. Now the company and its owner have been convicted of illegally storing hazardous waste there.

Electro-Plating Services Inc., 945 E. 10 Mile Road in Madison Heights, was closed in late 2016 when local and state authorities raised concerns about conditions at the facility. Now the company and its owner have been convicted of illegally storing hazardous waste there.

File photo by Deb Jacques


Company, owner sentenced for illegally storing hazardous waste

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published November 15, 2019

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MADISON HEIGHTS — The shuttered business Electro-Plating Services in Madison Heights was the site of environmental hazards that could have resulted in catastrophe for the workers and nearby residents. And now authorities are saying justice has been served.

The company was sentenced Nov. 5 in federal court in Detroit to five years of probation, and was ordered to pay restitution of nearly $1,450,000 to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

This is to be paid joint and several 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. Jim Thomas, the attorney representing Sayers, did not return calls for comment by press time.

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 that Sayers then proceeded to stonewall state efforts to gain compliance. The EPA’s Superfund program spent roughly $1,450,000 cleaning up and disposing of the waste — the amount ordered in restitution.

In a statement, Jeffrey Bossert Clark, assistant attorney general with the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, said that a crisis has been averted.

“This case shows that anyone who chooses to do business with dangerous materials must obey federal laws that protect our fellow Americans and the environment. These defendants’ knowing illegal storage of … reactive wastes posed a significant danger and threat to nearby communities and the environment,” Clark said. “They disregarded the law and numerous warnings and requests by state authorities to comply with their legal obligations. The Department of Justice will act to protect public health and safety.”

Madison Heights Fire Chief Gregory Lelito said that he originally raised concerns about Electro-Plating Services during an annual inspection in the spring of 2016. The business was located at 945 E. 10 Mile Road. In December 2016, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) first issued a cease-and-desist order.

In January 2017, Tracy Kecskemeti, the MDEQ district supervisor for southeast Michigan, told the Madison-Park News that the move against the company was highly unusual for the MDEQ.  

“We declared an imminent substantial hazard — something we have done only one other time (with an operating business) in the 30-some-year history of our hazardous wastes program,” Kecskemeti said previously. “It’s incredibly uncommon this would happen with an operating business. It’s one thing if it’s an abandoned building — that’s more common, at least occurring every year — but to do this with an operating business is rare. Here, the traditional means for gaining compliance would not work with the owner. We had to get creative and ask what the law allows us in this circumstance.”

The order followed a joint inspection between the Madison Heights Fire Department and the MDEQ in November 2016, when they found an estimated 5,000 containers of hazardous waste, hazardous materials and unknown contents, many of them said to be 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 numerous unsecured entry points leaving the building open to vandals. There was also concern at the time since the building is located within 500 feet of residential neighborhoods and within a 1-mile radius of the intersection of interstates 696 and 75, which serves 350,000 vehicles per day. It is also near day cares, schools and senior living facilities.     

At the time, there was 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. There were also flammable and combustible materials.  

“When these chemicals are properly maintained and disposed of, there’s no immediate threat, but the way they were operating, it needed to be addressed immediately,” Lelito said. “Our community is much safer now that this has been corrected.”

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