LANSING, Mich. - Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib (D-Detroit) has called for a full investigation by the Environmental Protection Agency into the potentially hazardous site that leaked green ooze onto I-696.
In a letter sent to EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler on Thursday, Tlaib called for additional assistance in mitigating some of the contamination based at the Electro-Plating Services building. The site, owned by Gary Sayers who is currently serving time in prison for violating environmental laws, was identified as the source of pollution days after ooze was seen leaking onto the highway.
The pollution isn't localized to just the building, however, with officials later finding green and red liquid at 5900 Commonwealth Street in Detroit.
"According to media reports, multiple pits of colorful liquid assumed to be hazardous, have been found at the Commonwealth Industries building at 5900 Commonwealth in Detroit," Tlaib said in the letter. "This is in addition to what EPA regional officials have called an "unprecedented" level of hazardous waste mismanagement by Mr. Sayers over a period of more than 50 years, including a callous mishandling of dangerous sodium cyanide, trichloroethylene, and hexavalent chromium."
Part of the contaminated site lies within Tlaib's 13th Congressional District.
Despite the urgency that the news has been conveying, the issues stemming from the contamination go back multiple Michigan administrations ago. It started on Gov. Jennifer Granholm's watch and continued during the eight years of Gov. Rick Snyder. Now it's the problem for the new governor Gretchen Whitmer.
The state has been dealing with the chemically contaminated chemical cocktail flowing onto the I-696 freeway in Madison Heights from a now-abandoned shop as well as the owner since 1993.
"Every time I talk to the department or other officials, they tell me this was an extraordinarily bad actor, an extraordinarily bad polluter - this is not typical," said State Sen. Jeremy Moss (D-Farmington) on Wednesday. "Then why wasn't our response extraordinary? Why wasn't our response more than just send him a fine, send him a violation and then just for him to respond?"
The governor's new environmental director told the committee she is disappointed over the state's conduct that she wants to correct that.
"I'm disappointed that' we're here. I'm disappointed that this has gone on for decades. I'm disappointed at multiple steps in the process, but I'm looking forward," said Liesl Clark following testimony.
But while the director is looking forward, lawmakers and local officials are looking backward. Madison Heights City Manager Melissa Marsh has faith in the state but she claims she is stuck with this contamination problem because, in part, the EPA reneged on a promise after a $1.5 million clean-up, which put people at risk.
"Not having regular inspections and being aware at the state level," she said. "We had an EPA final report that said the DEQ and EPA would be regularly monitoring the sight and it didn't happen."
Since Dec. 20, the environmental director reports the state is now on top of this. But one of the questions she can not answer is this: the ooze is infiltrating the groundwater and while there is no threat to the municipal water supply for the residents, she does not know if the PFAS and other chemicals will find its way into Lake St. Clair, which is a drinking water source.
"I can say that what we're doing is we're analyzing what we know now about what the levels are at and how that travels. I don't have all that information directly in front of me but our team is working on it," Clark said.
More hearings are planned to prevent a repeat in other parts of the state.