No-contact recommendations lifted in Huron River chemical spill

Officials have lifted the no-contact recommendations with the Huron River after a recent to Tribar toxic chemical spill originating in Wixom.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services said that the amount of chromium released to the river is not at a risk level for human health on Friday, although sampling will continue.

"There is no need for people and pets to continue to avoid contact with Huron River water, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services determined after reviewing data collected following a chemical release in Oakland County," said a release.

The MDHHS had issued a no-contact recommendation on Aug. 2 after hexavalent chromium was released into the Wixom Sewage Treatment Facility from Tribar Manufacturing in Wixom the weekend of July 29.

The sewer feeds the Wixom wastewater treatment plant, which discharges to the Huron River system.

Data MDHHS received on Wednesday from the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) and reviewed by MDHHS found chromium levels in the river were below levels of concern for effects on human health.

The data review found that:

  • The amount of hexavalent chromium released into the Huron River was much less than originally thought. 
  • The release was predominantly trivalent chromium, not hexavalent chromium. Trivalent chromium is a micronutrient that is part of humans’ diet and is far less concerning from a health perspective.
  • Hexavalent chromium was not detected in the majority of the surface water samples. The detections in three samples were well below the level that could cause harm.

"MDHHS is lifting its no-contact recommendation for the Huron River based on testing results we have received over the past week," said Elizabeth Hertel, MDHHS director. "The collaboration between local and state officials illustrates the strong commitment our state has to the health and safety of Michigan families."

Of 146 water samples collected throughout 42 river miles since the release, hexavalent chromium was detected in three samples. Chromium was found in six of 146 samples. Hexavalent chromium is a known carcinogen that can cause a number of adverse health effects through ingestion, skin contact or inhalation.

To protect the health of people using the river, MDHHS had recommended that people and pets avoid contact with the Huron River water between North Wixom Road in Oakland County and Kensington Road in Livingston County. 

This included Norton Creek downstream of the Wixom Wastewater Treatment Plant in Oakland County, Hubbell Pond – also known as Mill Pond – in Oakland County, and Kent Lake in Oakland and Livingston counties. Since that time, MDHHS has learned much more information, resulting in the decision to lift the no-contact recommendation.

More: Wixom company issued violations over Huron River chemical spill

Officials have emphasized there is no immediate threat to drinking water. The closest drinking water intake is in Ann Arbor. The city has been notified of the release and is also taking steps to monitor incoming water.

Both MDHHS and EGLE will conduct sampling for total chromium and hexavalent chromium three times a week at multiple locations upstream of the Ann Arbor intake in Barton Pond.

There will be testing once a week for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances – known as PFAS. The location and timing of sampling is designed to assure protection of the drinking water.