The ooze report, EGLE 'sweats' over Lake St. Clair cleanup project, more on life in Michigan's most polluted ZIP

January 10, 2020 | CO2 2019/2018 413.56 / 410.73 ppm <<

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In this week’s news ….

Lake St. Clair CSO cleanup project makes EGLE officials ‘sweat’

Rendering of proposed Chapotan Pump Station storage project in Lake St. Clair. Courtesy Macomb County Public Works Office

How clean is too clean for Lake St. Clair?

That question seems to be at the crux of an emerging dispute between the Macomb County Public Works Office and the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE).

A $30 million proposal by the Macomb County Public Works Commissioner’s Office to reduce Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs) from the Chapotan Drain in St. Clair Shores into Lake St. Clair is currently under permit review by EGLE. The project would reduce CSO discharges to the lake by an estimated 75 percent.

But Macomb County Public Works Commissioner Candice Miller told Planet Detroit that an EGLE official said that the project—which would utilize constructed wetlands and extra pipe capacity to store overflow so that it can be sent to a wastewater treatment plant instead of being treated with disinfectant and released into the lake—made him “sweat.”

The Chapotan Pump Station currently meets the requirements of its federal Nonpoint Source Discharge Elimination Program (NPDES) permit, which allows it to discharge treated sewage combined with stormwater into Lake St Clair during periods of heavy rains. The drain released 350 million gallons of treated overflow into Lake St. Clair in 2018.

Miller says her goal in taking office was to clean up Macomb County’s waterways.

“We don't have clean hands here, “ she said. “It is treated, but what you're doing is chlorinating crap.”

While separating the sewers in the Chapotan drainage district would be the ideal solution to the problem, Miller noted, the cost—an estimated $370 million—is prohibitive. So she directed her agency to innovate more cost-effective ideas to improve the status quo. They came up with the Chapotan project that uses green infrastructure and unused capacity to help control CSO discharge volume.

But according to Miller, Phil Argiroff, the Assistant Division Director of EGLE’s Water Resource Division, told her on a call in late December that the project was unlikely to be permitted because the facility was already permitted by the state to release treated sewage into the lake.

“And of course my answer is… just because you've been permitting that for decades, it doesn't make it right. We have to stop doing this,” Miller told Planet Detroit.

If EGLE withholds the permit for the project, which Miller says has cobbled together about $8 million in funding from multiple state and local sources and has the support of the City of St. Clair Shores and Michigan senators Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters, it won’t be built. Miller is also hoping to secure $2 million in State Revolving Fund dollars with loan forgiveness, which also hinges on the permit, and which was put on hold in December pending permit review.

According to Miller, EGLE officials expressed concern that if this project proceeds, it will set an expectation that other communities follow suit. EGLE spokesman Dean Scott told Planet Detroit that the agency plans to meet with Macomb County Officials later this month on the topic.

“Untreated combined sewer overflows do indeed affect water quality.  In this case, the County has already demonstrated that the Chapaton facility is providing adequate combined sewer treatment to protect water quality under its existing National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit,” Dean wrote in an email.

But Linda Schweitzer, an associate professor of environmental chemistry at Oakland University, told Planet Detroit that treated combined sewer overflow negatively impacts water quality and can pose a danger to public health.

“Any time you're discharging treated organic loads and then you're chlorinating it for disinfection, you're going to have chloroform and other disinfection byproducts,” she told Planet Detroit. “So you're going to have increased cancer risk and other health risks.”

-Nina Ignaczak

Green ooze raises questions about environmental regulations’ effectiveness

The green ooze flowing out onto Interstate 696 really put an exclamation point on the year as far as environmental news goes. A week into 2020, there are still a number of questions about what exactly is buried at the closed Electro-Plating Services (EPS) in Madison Heights, how far it has spread and what may have been dumped at a second site in Sanilac County. Meanwhile, a nearby Hazel Park bar capitalized on the crisis.

EPS owner Gary Sayers was sentenced to a year in prison in November for illegally storing hazardous materials, but Bridge reports that he has been in trouble with regulators since 1996 and The Detroit News identified him as an “industrial hoarder”. He was also ordered to pay $1.4 million in restitution for a cleanup that took place in 2018, although its unclear if he can actually pay this. The state is considering new charges against Sayers.

Although Sayers seems to be the immediate culprit, the blame is also being cast on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Michigan Department of Environment Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) for failing to identify the extent of this problem after the initial cleanup and endangering Michigan drinking water. Among other issues, the EPA has built up a large backlog of unaddressed Superfund sites under the Trump administration.

Perhaps the only reason this particular story is being discussed is that the chemicals in question are bright green and have been flowing onto a major expressway. “Thank goodness the ooze was green,” state Senator Jeff Irwin told Bridge.

The chemical composition of the spill has been identified as hexavalent chromium, which has been linked to lung cancer, asthma among other issues, and is frequently used in industrial coatings. EGLE says there is no immediate risk to drinking water, but lawmaker Shane Hernandez from Port Huron questioned the agency’s oversight.

Irwin and State Representative Yousef Rabhi introduced House Bill 4212 last year to require polluters to pay for clean up. The bill would also help establish uniform standards for cleanups.

“Now under Michigan law, what it allows for is that the polluter can just limit human exposure and control the spread of the contamination, but they’re not required to actually clean it,” Rabhi said. “This bill would actually require that cleaning to occur.”

This legislation is one potential tool for addressing the years of pollution created by manufacturing in the state that includes things like PFAS and a spreading dioxane plume in Ann Arbor. However, it’s opposed by the Michigan Chamber of Commerce and has not been taken up by the Republican-led legislature.

-Brian Allnutt

Life in 48217, Michigan’s most polluted ZIP code

The industry centered within the 48217 ZIP code—which covers parts of River Rouge, Ecorse, and Detroit—has long been associated with asthma, cancer and heart disease resulting from heavy industry and pollution. Detroit Metro Times reporter Steve Neavling tells the stories of some of those affected by air pollution that the University of Michigan researchers say takes the lives on 650 Detroiters a year, over twice the number of residents killed by guns. Residents are also confronted with unsellable real-estate and lower standardized test scores for children.

ICYMI: Planet Detroit published a short film by Lauren Santucci telling the story of Thomasenia Weston, who lives in a house located a few blocks from I-75. Weston raised her daughter and is now raising her two grandchildren in this house. All three generations suffer from severe asthma.

-Brian Allnutt

Detroit set to ramp up recycling

The Michigan Department of Environment Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) announced that it and two partners—the national nonprofit The Recycling Partnership and PepsiCo Foundation—awarded the city of Detroit nearly $800,000 dollars to expand its recycling operation with curbside recycling bins and multi-family containers. The grant will also help with the collection of recyclables at public facilities and the implementation of an education campaign to increase participation. "This grant will help us divert even more waste from our landfills,” State Senator Stephanie Chang said in a press release. However, this announcement comes amidst widespread questions over how much recyclable material actually gets recycled, now that countries in Southeast Asia that once handled recyclables have stopped taking it (and have even sent it back).

-Brian Allnutt

Channel cleanup at Zug Island

At least part of the 48217 ZIP code is getting some positive attention with a cleanup of the Old Channel of the Rouge River that has been an important connection for industrial shipping between the Rouge and Detroit rivers. The dredging and removal of toxic sediment around Zug Island is a partnership between the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Honeywell Corporation. Among other outcomes, this project could create a better spawning habitat for fish in an area that is important for species like walleye and lake sturgeon. This could also be a small step forward for the cleanup of for estimated 180 million cubic feet of toxic sediment in the Detroit River.

-Brian Allnutt

State holds a first public hearing on PFAS standards in Grand Rapids

State officials held the first of three public hearings on Wednesday in Grand Rapids to address concerns over PFAS and share information about new drinking water standards for some types of chemicals. Lynn McIntosh, who helped discover PFAS contamination from Wolverine Worldwide north of Grand Rapids, and others seemed to be seeking to regulate PFAS as a class of chemicals, not just some specific types of it, according to MLive. Additional meetings will be held on January 14th at Washtenaw Community College’s Towsley Auditorium at 5 PM and on January 16 at the Ralph A. Macmullan Conference Center in Roscommon at 5 PM.

-Brian Allnutt

Ann Arbor wants to build a solar array on top of an old landfill

Ann Arbor is looking to construct a 24-megawatt solar farm in Pittsfield Township in partnership with DTE Energy. The 70-acre site would be on top of an old landfill. This is part of the city’s goal to be carbon neutral by 2030. A proposal to partner with DTE on an engineering analysis and distribution study—at a cost of $90,000 to the city—will go in front of the city council on January 21st.

-Brian Allnutt

Trump administration moves to weaken environmental review

In news that could affect projects like Enbridge’s Line 5 in the Straits of Mackinac, the Trump administration wants to allow certain large projects like pipelines, roads, and bridges to move forward with less oversight by changing how the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) is implemented. In the past, NEPA has been used by environmental groups to challenge Line 5.

-Brian Allnutt


Local environmental jobs & volunteer opps

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Connect: Engage with Detroit’s environment

January 11 | Tree Bark | Tenhave Woods, Royal Oak >>>

January 14 | MSU Extension’s Introduction to Lakes Online Course | >>>

January 16 | Owl Hoot | Tenhave Woods, Royal Oak >>>

January 18 | Bike the Blizzard | Detroit >>>

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January 25 | Winter Stonefly Search | Rochester >>>

January 28 | Seed Swap | Ypsilanti >>>

January 28 | Clinton River Trail Annual Meeting | >>>

January 30 | The State of Transit: Then, Now, and into the Future! | Detroit >>>

January 30 | Southeast Michigan Sustainable Business Forum Fundraiser | Detroit >>>

February 1 | Shiver on the River Winter Birding | Detroit River >>>

February 1 | ¡Ay Cramba It’s Cold Out! | Shelby Township >>>

February 1 | Young Birders Walk at palmer Park | Palmer Park >>>

February 1 | Stonefly Search 2020 | Ann Arbor >>>

February 13 | Michigan Environmental Justice Summit 2020 | Ann Arbor >>>

February 15 | Become a Master Rain Gardener | Lathrup Village >>>

February 23 | Bee is for Beneficial: A Lecture by Brian Peterson-Roest | Belle Isle >>>

February 29 | Quiet Adventures Symposium | Lansing >>>

March 7 | Rouge Frog & Toad Survey Training Workshop | Livonia >>>

March 13 | Community Treehouse Gala >>>

March 19 | Architectural Solutions to Reduce Bird Deaths | Ann Arbor >>>

March 21 | Invasive Species Summit | Waterford >>>

April 4 | Trash Fishing Exploration - Testing of the boats | Detroit >>>

June 6 | National Trails Day | >>>

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