An environmental group today blasted state officials for declaring that 124 million gallons of sewage dumped into Lake St. Clair in March, which was labeled as untreated human waste, presented no danger to the public.

Save Lake St. Clair issued a statement that said if the Department of Environmental Quality insists that the discharges were treated with bacteria-killing chemicals, the pollution at the lakeshore “is still gross.”

Save Lake St. Clair has posted numerous photos and videos on its website showing huge blobs of smelly, swampy material hugging the shore in the Grosse Pointes, St. Clair Shores and Harrison Township. The group’s founder, Mike Gutow, a lakefront resident, has said that the mucky mounds show tell-tale signs of sewage, such as human waste and toilet paper.

“Save Lake St. Clair knows minimal compliance (by sewer systems) is resulting in human waste … in our water, closing down beaches and having overall negative impacts. Yet DEQ, instead of trying to make it better, continues to argue it’s ‘good enough,’” the statement said.

Lake St. Clair muck

Mike Gutow, founder of Save Lake St. Clair, points out the blobs of pollution at the lake shore.

“We ask this of … the members of the DEQ: Would you be willing to swim along the shoreline? See the pictures we are showing. Consider the discharges of hundreds of millions or billions of so-called ‘treated’ discharges. It’s still gross.”

Save Lake St. Clair had scrutinized DEQ documentation and declared that the discharges from the Martin retention basin in St. Clair Shores consisted of raw sewage. But a DEQ official told Politics Central that the department’s labeling of the discharge contents is admittedly misleading to the public.

“There’s not a category that fits it to a T,” said Dan Beauchamp, an acting district supervisor for the DEQ.

The Martin basin, located by the shoreline of Lake St. Clair, is in a technical category by itself because of the ratio of sewage vs. rainwater that it takes in during storms. As a result, Beauchamp said, its secondary treatment process, which includes a sanitizing system to kill E.coli bacteria, is fairly unique.

The DEQ website categorizes the Martin discharges as sanitary sewer overflows, or SSOs, which consist of raw sewage or inadequately treated waste. But the department also maintains that the outflow from Martin meets water quality standards.

The Macomb County Public Works Commissioner’s Office, which operates the facility, argues that the discharges should be categorized as combined sewer overflows, or CSOs, which consist of a mix of rainwater and human waste that is skimmed and chlorinated before its release into the waterways.

Doug Martz, who chaired the now-defunct Macomb County Water Quality Board, claims the DEQ’s inability to come up with a label for the overflows – SSOs or CSOs – indicates that the sewage is not properly treated.

“It’s all B.S. It’s a permit to pollute,” Martz said. “If there was still a Water Quality Board I’d call a meeting and ask what the hell is going on here. It’s crazy.”