The ramp, shoulder and service drive on eastbound Interstate 696 near Couzens Avenue in Madison Heights are closed indefinitely while work continues containing and remediating the leak of contaminated groundwater out of Electro-Plating Services.

The ramp, shoulder and service drive on eastbound Interstate 696 near Couzens Avenue in Madison Heights are closed indefinitely while work continues containing and remediating the leak of contaminated groundwater out of Electro-Plating Services.

Photo by Deb Jacques

Green liquid found at Detroit site linked to owner of Electro-Plating Services

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


MADISON HEIGHTS — Gary Sayers reported to federal prison earlier this month following his conviction last fall on the illegal storage of hazardous waste at his factory, Electro-Plating Services — the source of the Christmastime chemical leak on Interstate 696 that prompted an emergency response from all levels of government. But now authorities are uncovering environmental concerns at other sites linked to Sayers, as well.

On Jan. 10, the Detroit Fire Department found suspicious liquids in several pits at a property Sayers owns at 5900 Commonwealth St. in Detroit. According to the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy, or EGLE, some pits were empty, while others were partially filled with a liquid resembling the green contamination from Electro-Plating Services.

Prior to that, a property that Sayers owns near Sanilac was found strewn with old junk that included empty barrels that appear to have contained chemicals in the past. EGLE checked the site and did not find any disturbed soil, dead vegetation or other signs of chemical disposal. EGLE took soil samples and water samples from a nearby stream for testing.

EGLE is also inspecting a residential property that Sayers owns in the Petoskey area. This site does not appear to have any direct industrial or commercial activity associated with it.

As for Electro-Plating Services, located at 945 E. 10 Mile Road in Madison Heights, work continues cleaning up the area, with another 4,000 gallons of contaminated groundwater recovered by two sump pumps — one in the basement of the factory, in the hand-dug pit where Sayers had dumped industrial waste; and another at the point in the freeway wall where the green gusher emerged.

This is in addition to more than 11,000 gallons collected previously. Motorists should note that the shoulder, exit ramp and service drive of eastbound I-696 at Couzens Avenue will continue to be closed indefinitely during this process.

At press time, authorities were also awaiting the results of testing done on-site, as well as testing on the area’s drinking water, expected to arrive sometime this month. There are no anticipated dangers to the drinking water, which comes from sealed municipal sources. The test results from the soil samples will help determine the full range of contaminants, and in turn shape the scope of the next phase of remediation.

Also at press time, a trial had just gotten underway in Oakland County Circuit Court, where the city of Madison Heights seeks to demolish Electro-Plating Services at Sayers’ expense. Judge Hala Jarbou is hearing the case. The lawsuit is not a response to the recent incident on I-696; rather, it has been in development for several years now. This was getting underway right after Sayers began serving his one-year sentence for the illegal storage of hazardous waste.

To help with the ongoing cleanup costs, EGLE is also launching a new, formal preliminary assessment of the Electro-Plating Services site for possible inclusion in the Superfund program through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA.

City officials said they’re continuing to follow the situation closely.

Madison Heights Mayor Pro Tem Roslyn Grafstein said she’s been in contact with U.S. Rep. Andy Levin, state Sen. Jeremy Moss and state Rep. Jim Ellison, urging them to help find funding to remediate the site.

“I want solutions and action, but I know we need to be patient while EGLE and the EPA determine the scope of this issue,” Grafstein said. “Right now, my focus is on ensuring the safety of our residents and ultimately a complete remediation of the site. The city is finalizing a date for a public briefing so that our residents can directly ask their questions to EGLE and other involved agencies.”

Madison Heights City Councilman Robert Corbett said the most immediate goal is to ensure the drinking water is safe.

“Every indication we have is that, in fact, it is,” Corbett said. “But we will continue to ask the tough questions and ensure those responsible are fully transparent.

“In the midterm, the city needs to meet its obligation to physically secure the site, prevail in our litigation against the owner, and ensure that never again can this location be used for the storage of poisons and industrial wastes,” he continued. “Looking down the road, our ultimate goal is simple and uncompromising — we insist on the full remediation of the site, and the removal of all contaminated soils and byproducts from that location. … We simply will not give up until we achieve that goal on behalf of our residents.”

On Jan. 15, Oakland County Executive David Coulter testified before the Michigan House of Representatives Appropriations Committee. He, along with Oakland County Health Director Kathy Forzley, called for additional evaluation of the site remediation plan.

He said that TCE and other hazardous substances found in the pit at Electro-Plating Services are associated with vapor intrusion, so in addition to monitoring wells for shallow groundwater, a perimeter should be established to monitor soil gas and its potential to migrate to nearby businesses and homes as a hazard to indoor air. He also called for deeper soil and aquifer tests to ensure the contamination has not spread below the area’s clay layer.

Coulter also said the distance over which the testing is conducted should be increased, following service lines such as sewers, electrical chases and natural gas runs — any area where groundwater could travel due to disturbances in the natural soil. He also called for deeper monitoring wells, noting that the current work focuses on shallow groundwater and the northeast flow direction.

Coulter said that Sayers should be held fully accountable for the mess, and he said that the county is pleased to see EGLE and the EPA completing a Superfund site assessment. There are 10,000 potentially hazardous waste sites in the state of Michigan, and 3,000 of those have been identified by EGLE as an active problem, he said, so he called for more resources to resolve them.

As for Electro-Plating Services, Coulter said in a statement to the Madison-Park News, “Oakland County stands ready to work with the city of Madison Heights on options for the demolition that must occur before the site can be fully cleaned up.”