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 Motorists drive on Interstate 696 past the cordoned-off hazard site at Electro-Plating Services.

Motorists drive on Interstate 696 past the cordoned-off hazard site at Electro-Plating Services.

Photo by Deb Jacques


Officials weigh in on ‘terrifying’ toxic mess in Madison Heights

Governor, attorney general call for aggressive action

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published January 3, 2020

 A red notice on the front of the building declares it condemned.

A red notice on the front of the building declares it condemned.

Photo by Deb Jacques

 The shuttered factory is the source of the hexavalent chromium leak, which seeped out of a pit in its basement.

The shuttered factory is the source of the hexavalent chromium leak, which seeped out of a pit in its basement.

Photo by Deb Jacques

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MADISON HEIGHTS — The life-threatening contaminants found at Electro-Plating Services in Madison Heights continue to draw attention. While the chemicals leaking out of the shuttered building pose no immediate risk to drinking water, the situation is being treated as urgent by authorities at all levels trying to keep the toxins out of Lake St. Clair.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, has confirmed in test results that the bright green goo that seeped out of an embankment on eastbound Interstate 696 the weekend before Christmas is in fact hexavalent chromium, or chromium-6, the same toxin that infamously poisoned the town of Hinkley, California, as dramatized in the 2000 film “Erin Brockovich.” Chromium-6 can cause cancer, liver failure and kidney failure, among other issues. And the source of the spill is the basement of Electro-Plating Services, 945 E. 10 Mile Road, where a pit had been dug by the former business owner, Gary Sayers. He was sentenced in November to a year in federal prison for his illegal storage of hazardous waste on-site, including chemicals that could have combined with water to create a highly toxic cloud of hydrogen cyanide.

The chemicals dumped in the pit seeped into the earth and combined with groundwater, eventually gushing out of a gap in the freeway wall where the Michigan Department of Transportation runs a wire to power temporary signage. Sump pumps have been running in the basement at Electro-Plating Services to keep pace with elevated water levels from recent rainfall, while nearby catch basins have been continually cleaned to minimize the migration of chemicals off-site.    

While the site of the incident is in Oakland County, the Macomb County Public Works Office is involved since stormwater runoff on I-696 drains into the Clinton River and ultimately Lake St. Clair.

Macomb County Public Works Commissioner Candice Miller, a former congresswoman, issued a statement Dec. 27 underscoring the severity of the situation.

“The toxic waste coming from this business site … is life-threatening and terrifying. The ‘green ooze’ that was spotted on I-696 … may have been a blessing in disguise, as it led to the revelation of an incredibly dangerous situation at this abandoned business,” Miller said in the statement.

“The current conditions in that business — after a $1.5 million EPA-led cleanup (in June 2017) — tells me that guidelines on how such cleanups are conducted are inadequate. The bare minimum was done on this cleanup,” Miller continued in her statement. “This situation requires both immediate and long-term remediation. The building should be demolished and the surrounding soils tested and excavated. This incident has shown that deadly chemicals from this site can leach out and have the potential of making their way all the way to Lake St. Clair, and thereby our drinking water supply.

“While this site is not in Macomb County, this site clearly demands an immediate response from all appropriate authorities until it is no longer a danger to our community and to our magnificent Great Lakes. It must be cleaned up now. This situation must be aggressively addressed, unlike the initial superfund cleanup.”

On Dec. 30, the office of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued a statement on her administration’s efforts to prevent future contamination.

“Since taking office, I’ve remained committed to protecting public health and safety,” Whitmer stated. “The ongoing situation in Madison Heights is very concerning and further stresses the need to enforce protections that keep Michiganders safe. State experts are on location assisting in the ongoing cleanup efforts. I’m grateful for their vigilant efforts during this holiday season.

“My administration is actively reviewing all means of accountability, including further criminal charges against the polluter who caused this mess. Today I also directed EGLE (the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy, formerly known as the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality) to conduct a formal review of its pollution inspection procedures to strengthen enforcement and accountability.

“Working with federal and local partners, my administration will stay focused on cleaning up contaminated sites sooner, addressing root causes and holding polluters accountable.”

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel issued her own statement in support of Whitmer.

“I strongly support the governor’s commitment, and my department will do everything in our power to assist … as they pursue this latest threat to our environment,” Nessel stated. “I have recently added new resources to our Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture Division, and am creating a criminal unit that will focus specifically on environmental prosecutions. Our department takes environmental contamination very seriously — as witnessed by our actions against Enbridge and Wolverine — and plans to take a more active enforcement role in this arena, working with EGLE.”

In another statement released Dec. 31, Miller sharpened her criticism of EGLE.

“The Michigan EGLE — the very agency tasked with protecting our lake and our environment — failed in its responsibility to ensure a contaminated business site in Madison Heights was properly cleaned up, despite this site having been a known offender for many years. Acting on this faulty state report, the U.S. EPA took no further action to remediate this site. Now we have potential contamination spreading well beyond this single site in Madison Heights,” Miller stated.

Representatives for EGLE were not able to respond by press time, instead directing those with questions to an FAQ section on the state’s website.

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