September 24, 2019
It's happened to all of us more times than we can count. You call a government or business phone number and get stuck in an endless recorded loop. Press 1 for this, press 2 for that, and there's never, "Press 1 to ask a human being a simple question." Unless, that is, you call the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) Environmental Assistance Center (EAC -- pronounced EEK by EGLE).
In 2018, EAC staff helped nearly 54,000 people from the public, businesses, manufacturers, and local and national government offices via telephone and email.
EAC's five operators know the bureaucracy inside and out. Department regulations? No problem. Emerging issues like Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) and vapor intrusion? Piece of cake. When an emergency happens -- an overturned gasoline tanker, for example -- a call to the Pollution Emergency Alerting System (PEAS) line gets immediate attention.
"The responsibility of EAC operators and the importance of the roles they play is great," notes Jay Eickholt, Emergency Management Coordinator and EAC Manager. "The EGLE call center provides excellent, authentic internal and external customer service while continuing to build public trust."
Callers with an environmental emergency use EGLE's 24/7 PEAS line hotline (1-800-662-9278), which has been in continuous operation since 1975. Sometimes calls come from the National Response Center, the federal equivalent of the PEAS line. Callers report environmental pollution emergencies such as tanker accidents, pipeline breaks, and other releases of hazardous materials on land, in water, or in the air. EAC gets 2,500 environmental emergency reports every year.
One of EAC's operators walks callers through the reporting process and captures details needed to determine what part of EGLE – or a partner agency like the Michigan Departments of Agriculture and Rural Development, Transportation, Natural Resources, Health and Human Services, or Michigan State Police – needs to be notified. The operator reaches out to the person best qualified to follow up on every call.
There is no such thing as a typical day. Callers ask questions ranging from dam safety to drinking water, oil wells to wetlands. Increased public awareness of PFAS has meant more calls about foam on the water. And some days, operators respond to questions about permits needed to keep an alligator, or if severe weather is the result of climate change.
Most important, EAC operators care. They are prompt -- all incoming inquiries are handled and responded to within 24 hours (other than PEAS calls, which may need more immediate attention). They know their stuff, and if they're stumped by a caller's question, they collaborate with each other and know who in EGLE to call. No calls to a dozen people trying to find the right one for your simple question. EAC is EGLE's front-line team of bureaucracy-busters.
You can contact EAC with your questions at 1-800-662-9278 and EGLEassist@Michigan.gov.
For a pollution emergency, call the PEAS line at 1-800-292-4706 Operators truly are standing by.