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

Warren monitoring ‘green ooze’ near its border

By: Brian Louwers | Warren Weekly | Published January 10, 2020


WARREN — A toxic mess festered in the basement of a blighted Madison Heights business for years before it squirted out of a nearby freeway embankment in the days leading up to Christmas.

The green gusher made headlines across the country and got everyone’s attention, including officials in nearby communities, who are now asking how a contaminated industrial site that was supposed to be cleaned up years ago could have come to this fruition.  

“They were supposed to clean up this green ooze back in 2017,” Warren Mayor Jim Fouts said Jan. 2. “It wasn’t good. The result is they now have a real mess. If they would have cleaned it up properly it wouldn’t have traveled.”

Among the materials found leaking out of the former Electro-Plating Services property on 10 Mile Road west of Couzens Avenue was hexavalent chromium, also known as chromium-6. The chemical, used in the industrial chrome plating process, can cause a list of serious health problems including cancer, liver failure and kidney failure. The toxin became infamous for poisoning the water supply for the town of Hinkley, California. The story was dramatized in the 2000 film “Erin Brockovich.”

Fouts has since said Warren’s water supply is safe and that city industrial pretreatment program inspectors found no detectable traces of hexavalent chromium. In December, he said all of the drains in the city that could possibly be infected were checked and that no contamination was found.

On Jan. 9, he said testing remained ongoing and that the situation would be closely monitored as it continues to develop and more information becomes available.

“It’s not under control. I think it’s going to be a big problem,” Fouts said. “We’re monitoring it. We’re concerned. Ultimately it will probably get into some areas we don’t want it to get into.”   

Warren is pretty close to the site and potentially downstream, only a few blocks away across Dequindre Road. But even closer to the contaminated site is Trig Tool, Inc., a machine tool shop operated by Macomb County Commissioner Andrey Duzyj, who represents Warren residents in the county’s District 1. The shop is just six doors down from Electro-Plating Services, on the east side of Couzens.

“I was actually surprised because they had people there about three years ago and there were people running around in hazmat suits,” Duzyj said. “I was under the impression that they had found it and gotten rid of everything. When this came up, with this stuff squirting out onto (Interstate) 696, I was genuinely surprised. I thought that was all cleaned up.”

 The toxic material came from a pit in the basement of Electro-Plating Services, dug by former owner Gary Sayers, who in November was sentenced to a year in federal prison for illegally storing hazardous waste on the property. The materials reportedly included chemicals that could have produced a toxic cloud of hydrogen cyanide if mixed with water.

The materials dumped into the pit had combined with groundwater and seeped into the earth, and eventually gushed from a gap in the freeway’s retaining wall.

Officials are now questioning the adequacy of the $1.5 million cleanup led by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency at the request of state officials that concluded in January 2018.

“Whoever did this the first time dropped the ball and just didn’t do a darned thing,” Duzyj said. “It’s unbelievable to me. I don’t know how in the heck they missed all this.”

 Through his work in the industry, Duzyj said he knows other plating operators who are diligent about meeting requirements for disposal of toxic materials. He said that particular cost of doing business, however, is expensive, and that the owner of Electro-Plating Services was clearly interested in avoiding it.

“There are other places that do a variety of plating and do it up front and they’re honest about it. They don’t dump the stuff all over the place and they don’t flush it down the toilet,” Duzyj said. “They get somebody to get rid of it and they pay the freight to get rid of it.”

He said he’s not worried about contamination reaching his own business, even at such close proximity, but that he is concerned about the potential for the materials to end up in Lake St. Clair.

Because the contamination is so close to the county line, Macomb County Public Works Commissioner Candice Miller, a former U.S. Representative, issued a statement addressing the issue. She called the discovery “a blessing in disguise, as it led to the revelation of an incredibly dangerous situation at this abandoned business.”

“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,” Miller said in the statement. “The bare minimum was done on this cleanup. This situation requires both immediate and long-term remediation.”

On Jan. 9, members of Michigan’s congressional delegation officially requested additional federal assistance to supplement state efforts to mitigate any threat posed by the toxic materials. A letter to EPA Director Andrew Wheeler was signed by U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, U.S. Rep. Andy Levin and U.S. Rep. Paul Mitchell.

Staff Writer Andy Kozlowski contributed to this report.