Most of Michigan's 24,000 contaminated sites await cleanup that might never come

December 20, 2020

Source: Keith Matheny
Department: Detroit Free News

Toxic contamination usually gets this dramatic only in Hollywood.

In the week before Christmas 2019, commuters on I-696 in Madison Heights were startled by a fluorescent green chemical ooze weeping from a concrete retaining wall along an earthen embankment, the substance puddling on the freeway's shoulder.

Tests later showed the ooze laden with hexavalent chromium, prolonged exposures to which can cause nasal and sinus cancers, kidney and liver damage. The source was obvious, straight up the embankment from the oozing site: Electro-Plating Services, a struggling chrome plating business long on the radar of the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for its hazardous waste mismanagement.

The I-696 green ooze was an extreme, highly visual example of a more chronic, largely invisible problem across Michigan. The state has more than 24,000 known contaminated sites " some minor spills, others as major as Electro-Plating Services. At most locations, state regulators know only what the property owners and their hired environmental consultants have told them. And those landowner assessments filed with the state are voluntary, not a requirement.

Michigan environmental law assigns responsibility for contamination not to the owners of the land, but to those who caused the pollution, however long ago, provided current property owners take some protective steps. Some 14,000 of the state's contaminated sites have no responsible party that can be identified " either it's unclear who caused it or those responsible no longer are around. That means the sites will fall to EGLE or the EPA " taxpayers " to deal with as needed. And that number isn't likely to get reduced much anytime soon. Of those 14,000 sites, EGLE this year funded remediation activities at about 450.

Read the entire article Most of Michigan's 24,000 Contaminated Sites Await Cleanup That Might Never Come.

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