Media Advisory: EGLE offers overview of response, cleanup efforts for toxic material in Madison Heights

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Dec. 23, 2019
Jill A. Greenberg, EGLE Public Information Officer, GreenbergJ@Michigan.gov, 517-897-4965
EGLE Media Office, EGLE-Assist@Michigan.gov, 517-284-9278

Media Advisory

This advisory summarizes what the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) knows to date about the seepage of toxic materials onto the shoulder of I-696 interstate in Madison Heights on Friday, Dec. 20, 2019. EGLE has set up a webpage for the Electroplating Services / I-696 Incident that will chronicle cleanup actions and potential next steps to more permanently remediate the contamination. That webpage will be updated as necessary.

What: Release of bright green liquid that seeped onto the shoulder of I-696 east of the Couzens offramp in Madison Heights Dec. 20.

Likely source: Electro-Plating Services (EPS) located at 945 E. 10 Mile, Madison Heights.

Suspected material: Based on site history, EGLE believes the substance to be groundwater contaminated with hexavalent chromium. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) took water samples and results are expected by Friday, Dec. 27.

Threat to public health/environment: There is no immediate threat to air quality or drinking water from this release.  There are no nearby drinking water wells that would be affected from contaminated groundwater.  The shoulder of I-696 has been closed to prevent people from contacting or driving through the material.

The storm drains on I-696 lead to the Clinton River and eventually Lake St. Clair.  This release likely contributed contaminants to the storm sewer system before it was discovered.  Because of the potential for release to our rivers and lakes, local, state, and federal agencies took immediate action to contain this contaminated water and prevent future releases. 

History of site: EPS was issued a Cease and Desist order from EGLE (then the Department of Environmental Quality) in December 2016 due to extreme mismanagement of hazardous waste that posed an immediate and substantial threat to the community.  Throughout 2017, the EPA conducted a cleanup of the site, removing the hazardous chemicals and pumping contaminated liquid from an earthen pit in the basement of the facility.  This clean-up addressed the immediate hazards on the site but was not intended to address all environmental impacts.  In November 2019, EPS owner Gary Sayers was convicted of operating an unlicensed hazardous waste storage facility, sentenced to one year in federal prison, and ordered to repay the EPA $1.5 million for clean-up costs. 

Responders: State, federal and local agencies responding to the incident include: EGLE, Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT), Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS), Michigan State Police (MSP), the EPA, Oakland County Emergency Management, Macomb County and the city of Madison Heights. 

Cleanup efforts:

Beginning on Friday, Dec. 20, 2019, responders removed the visible material from the shoulder of I-696 and vacuumed out the storm water catch basins on the freeway. The collected water was put in a portable tank staged at the EPS site.  Water entering the catch basins is now clear, but this water will continue to be collected for off-site disposal until sampling shows it to be clean. 

The basement pit at EPS was partially filled with gravel after the previous EPA cleanup. When responders entered the building Friday night, the gravel was saturated with green water and there was 2-3 inches of frozen water on top of the gravel.  A sump was dug into the gravel and a float-operated pump was installed.  The water is being pumped into a 20,000-gallon portable tank on site.  EPA contractors will continue to remove water from the basement at EPS while a long-term remedy is developed. This removal is expected to reduce further contamination from migrating offsite. The expressway and surrounding area will continue to be monitored to ensure the effectiveness of this strategy.   

The release from EPS has contaminated a portion of the embankment on I-696.  Soil samples have been collected from the embankment and the results are expected by the end of the week.  Additional clean-up work will be needed to prevent contaminated water from continuing to seep out of the embankment and entering the storm sewer.  As an interim measure, absorbent material has been piled in front of the seep area and will be monitored and replaced regularly. 

MDOT will continue to assess the need for shoulder/lane/ramp closures to ensure public safety and the safety of clean-up operations.  Additional physical measures (barriers and snow fence) will be put in place to keep motorists out of the impacted area along the shoulder. The City of Madison Heights is in litigation with the property owner seeking to demolish the EPS building. 

What’s next?

The current clean-up actions are a temporary remedy to a larger problem.  A long-term remedy to address contaminated soil and groundwater is necessary.  EPS is responsible for the contamination.  In the coming weeks, EGLE along with local, state and federal agencies will be working together to develop a plan to address the site in the long term. 

In the interim, EPA will continue pumping contaminated water from the basement pit; develop a strategy to address the embankment contamination and continue to monitor the embankment and storm sewers to ensure there is no release to the expressway or to waterways.

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