Cleanup of ‘green ooze’ near former business in Oakland County to cost $4M

Madison Heights —  The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency told residents Tuesday they are continuing to treat groundwater contamination at the former Electro-Plating Services in Madison Heights, but remediation could cost taxpayers $4 million.

Yellow-green liquid containing toxic chemicals oozed onto the bank of Interstate 696 in December from the basement of the former electro-plating operation.

Officials told residents during a virtual town hall meeting Tuesday that the Madison Heights building was the only site the EPA continued work on through the pandemic.

In July, the EPA launched a pilot study of treating the groundwater contamination by injecting treatment chemicals, called reagents, directly into the soil.

They added a treatment at the site to provide a permeable barrier.

“The materials are injected into the ground above a layer of clay at a high rate of pressure, and as the contaminated water moves through the area, it is actually treated through the barrier,” said Tricia Edwards of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Initial studies found 80% of the contaminants were removed, including hexavalent chromium, trichloroethylene, cyanide and PFAS or perfluorooctanoic substances, said Tracy Kecskemeti, supervisor of the EPA’s southeast Michigan district.

“We did find PFAS in the groundwater and the site, but because this is a plating operation, it wasn’t unexpected,” Kecskemeti said. “It’s used in a range of operations including chrome plating. So, I consider it one of a number of contaminants. It’s not the main driver but it complicates the remediation plan.”

The EPA has collected more than 300,000 gallons of contaminated groundwater and hauled it off-site for treatment and disposal. Another 10,000 remains on the site, officials said.

The site did not meet the threshold for a Superfund Redevelopment because there are no drinking water receptors in the area and there is a low risk of migration, Kecskemeti said.

“We needed something that can treat all three of the contaminants as it moved through the soil,” she said. “The main thing to keep in mind is no one is drinking this water. We expect an 80% removal and we’re going to continue to monitor this site to study it for long-term solutions.”

As groundwater naturally migrates through the soil, the chemicals used to treat the pollutants will flow through the injection areas between the Electro-Plating Services building and the I-696 service drive, as well as along the top of the I-696 embankment.

Road crews also lined the sanitary pipes and storm sewers and removed the bypass system this summer. Officials anticipate having the full-scale injection of the reagents in September. In late December, the EPA plans to demobilize the site and transfer it back to EGLE.

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EPA costs have been $2.2 million to date and officials anticipate another $2 million on the in-situ treatment and continued operations until the end of the year.

The EPA agreed to take on the operations and expects quarterly groundwater monitoring that will cost $50,000, maintenance $45,000 every three-to-five years, and five- to 10-year maintenance costs of as much $330,000, Edwards said.

“We tried numerous treatment reagents to treat the contaminated water … we got an 87% reduction in the PFAS that’s anticipated to last longer as we move forward,” Edwards said.

Kecskemeti said they offered nine options to the state, all of which cost just as much. 

“All have really significant costs; none were low-dollar projects,” she said. “The groundwater is already contaminated outside the footprint, so we were already going to have to find some way to manage it.”

EGLE requested the EPA’s help at the site in December. 

Gary Sayers of Bloomfield Hills, the owner of the Electro-Plating Services buildings, was sentenced to a year in federal prison this year after pleading guilty to illegal handling of hazardous waste at the defunct site and two other buildings.

Sayers was given early release in April and assigned to home confinement. EPA officials plan to demolish the site in efforts to remedy it, but the owner appealed twice in court.

The Oakland County District Court upheld the ruling to demolish the buildings 901, 945, and 959 East 10 Mile Road and repair 925 East 10 Mile as soon as the EPA can obtain funding for it.

The company was issued a cease-and-desist order in December 2016 after inspectors discovered an estimated 5,000 corroded drums, vats and other containers of hazardous waste at the site, according to the EPA.

 A $2 million cleanup effort began in June 2017. Crews removed chemicals from the property but did not clean up soil or groundwater contamination.

Since 1967, the company has used copper, tin, bronze, cadmium, nickel, chrome, gold, silver, zinc and lead for electroplating operations, leaving behind hazardous wastes including sodium cyanide, trichloroethylene and lead, according to the EPA.

Melissa Marsh, a spokeswoman for the city, said city water is coming from the Detroit River.

“When people are filling their pools or watering their grass, that water is coming from the river, not the impacted area,” she said.

Kecskemeti said they will continue to work on the site, although it’s unclear when the next steps can be taken.

“Once the building’s demolished, we can start addressing the removal outside the building’s footprint,” she said. “The system being presented to you isn’t the last or final thing on the site, we’re going to make sure it’s working and addressed along the way.”

srahal@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @SarahRahal_

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