Huron River chemical spill: What is hexavalent chromium?

People are urged to avoid a stretch of the Huron River after a hexavalent chromium chemical spill.

What should residents do?

The river between North Wixom and Kensington roads is part of the no contact warning, and you should avoid touching, drinking, or water plants with the water. 

Also, do not eat fish from the river. This part of the river is already under a "do not eat" advisory due to PFOS contamination. 

READ: Do not eat fish from these SE Michigan lakes, rivers, and ponds

This includes Norton Creek downstream of the Wixom Wastewater Treatment Plant (Oakland County), Hubbell Pond (also known as Mill Pond in Oakland County) and Kent Lake (Oakland and Livingston counties).

"This recommendation is being made to help protect the health and safety of families who live, work and play in the Huron River in the affected area," said Elizabeth Hertel, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services director. "As we gather additional information through sampling, this recommendation may change or be expanded."

Where did the chemical come from?

The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy announced Tuesday that several thousands of gallons of a liquid with 5% hexavalent chromium was released into the sewer system by Wixom company Tribar Manufacturing.

According to the state, EGLE was notified at 3:21 p.m. Monday by Tribar about the release of the chemical to the Wixom Sewage Treatment Facility, but it could have started as early as Saturday morning.

It is believed that much of the chemical had made its way through the treatment plant by the time the release was discovered.

According to the state, Tribar Manufacturing was also identified as the source of PFAS contamination to the river system in recent years. It installed additional filtration to help address that problem.

State regulators will investigate the circumstances of the weekend release at the facility, but stressed that the immediate concern is ensuring the protection of the environment and public health.

What are the dangers of hexavalent chromium?

According to the state, drinking water is not immediately threatened by this spill, as the closest drinking water intake is in Ann Arbor. Time-of-travel modeling indicates it would take the contaminant several weeks or more to make its way to the city’s water intakes. 

The city has been notified, and water is being monitored.

However, touching hexavalent chromium can cause problems, as it is a known carcinogen, or cancer-causing substance.

Related: Yellow substance seeping onto I-696 identified as hexavelent chromium

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, hexavalent chromium can irritate the nose, throat, and lungs, while prolonged exposure can damage the mucous membranes and cause ulcers.

Touching the substance can cause allergic reactions and skin ulcers.

Animals who have ingested hexavalent chromium have experienced anemia, as well as irritation and ulcers in the stomach and small intestine, according to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

Residents with questions about hexavalent chromium, potential health effects or exposures can call the MI Toxic Hotline at 800-648-6942, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. Extended hotline hours will be offered this weekend, Saturday, Aug. 6 and Sunday, Aug. 7, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

What is being done about the chemical spill?

EGLE was taking river water samples from multiple areas downstream from the treatment plant on Tuesday, and is working with local and state health officials to assess the extent of the contamination. Testing is also taking place within the Tribar facility and the Wixom wastewater treatment plant. 

Monitoring will continue in coming days, and weeks, the state said.

As noted, the city of Ann Arbor will also be monitoring incoming water to ensure drinking water is not impacted.  

"This is a significant release into a large, much-loved waterway," said Liesl Clark, EGLE director. "Our teams are in the field now assessing the situation. We will stay on the job as long as it takes to ensure residents are safe and impacts to the ecosystem are minimized."