In recent days, Candice Miller, the Macomb County public works commissioner, has slammed Gov. Gretchen Whitmer for failures by her environmental protection agency to properly address the toxic “green ooze” in Madison Heights that may be flowing into Lake St. Clair, a major source of drinking water in southeast Michigan.
But the antagonism reached new heights this afternoon when the Whitmer administration indicated it was backing out of a $2 million commitment to help fund an anti-pollution project to benefit the lake. This represents a major split after Miller, a former Republican congresswoman, seemed to have joined hands with the new Democratic governor on environmental issues.
First, let’s take a look at the statement Miller made over the weekend about the chemicals leaking in neighboring south Oakland County:
Sunday’s rainfall brings into sharp focus the danger to our Great Lakes and drinking water system from a contaminated business in Madison Heights that leached Chromium-6 and other chemicals on to I-696 and its underground drainage system. All storm water in metro Detroit is either absorbed into the ground or eventually ends up in Lake St. Clair or another portion of the Great Lakes system.
We are all watching closely now as we are eager to see what steps are made to clean up this mess at the former Electro-Plating Services building in Madison Heights. The owner of this business has already been sentenced to prison for his abuse of the environment with these chemicals. It is clear from the current situation that either the federal EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) or the state EGLE (Department of the Environment, Great Lakes and Energy) did not adequately follow through with the initial clean up. Both agencies need to ensure that this cleanup is done right, to ensure the safety of the surrounding community and to ensure this material does not enter the lake.
The reality is, we don’t know how long these chemicals (were) leaking and so we don’t know where they may have traveled. But we know it has to stop now. EGLE and EPA have to step up to protect our communities and our lake.
A longtime Macomb County official, Miller also made a subtle reference to a 1960s mantra among public officials that has long since been cast aside as a nonsensical approach to environmental protection: “The solution to pollution is dilution.”
EGLE essentially used that outdated argument in a statement after tests were performed on the chemicals leaking from the shuttered Electro-Plating Services factory on 10 Mile Road, including highly toxic chromium-6 and trichloroethylene and cyanide.
EGLE said that these toxins, as they mix with rain water in the drains, become nonhazardous to the public.
“Dilution is not a solution and that is not the correct response,” Miller said sternly in the Harrison Township Republican’s comments on Sunday.
Water testing in nearby storm sewers on I-696 where the ooze initially surfaced revealed levels of chromium-6 (hexavalent chromium) of 0.14 milligrams per liter. That’s 40 percent above the 0.10 milligrams per liter that is considered safe for drinking water.
Because of concerns about accumulations of these chemicals in the ecosystem, the EPA is reportedly reassessing whether the .10 milligrams are too high an acceptable level, especially when dealing with the cumulative effects of chromium-6.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said that she has ordered EGLE to conduct “a formal review of its pollution inspection procedures to strengthen enforcement and accountability.”
Much of the state’s dealings with Electro-Plating Services’ negligent handling of hazardous materials was addressed by the Snyder administration through EGLE’s predecessor, then known as the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ).
But in March, Whitmer administration officials from EGLE told the EPA that there was a low probability of chemicals migrating beyond the factory property or of the 10 Mile Road site contaminating drinking water.
In the days since the green ooze leaked through the walls of the I-696 freeway, Macomb officials seem to be much more concerned about the implications than those in Oakland and Wayne counties.
Joining Miller in their dismay over the situation are several Democratic lawmakers from Macomb who on Monday sent a letter demanding more information from EGLE Director Leisl Clark. The letter was signed by Sen. Paul Wojno of Warren and Reps. John Chirkun of Roseville, Kevin Hertel of St. Clair Shores, Nate Shannon of Sterling Heights, Bill Sowerby of Clinton Township and Lori Stone of Warren.
This afternoon, Miller released another statement blasting EGLE for its performance on the green ooze emergency and it’s backpedaling on support for a major pollution prevention project sought by the Macomb County public works commissioner:
When I ran for the position of Macomb County public works commissioner, I had one overarching goal — to improve the water quality in Lake St. Clair so that future generations could enjoy the tremendous benefits of not only this lake but all of the magnificent Great Lakes system. Keeping our lake clean requires local, state and federal support.
The case of the “green ooze” along I-696 represents a failure in this effort. Uncovered by media reports, the Michigan EGLE — the very agency tasked with protecting our lake and our environment — failed in its responsibility to ensure a contaminated business site in Madison Heights was properly cleaned up, despite this site having been a known offender for many years.
Acting on this faulty state report, the US EPA took no further action to remediate this site. Now we have potential contamination spreading well beyond this single site in Madison Heights.
Meanwhile, a project my office has been working on almost since the day I took office (in January 2017) has now run into bureaucratic snags at the Michigan EGLE. We seek to expand and upgrade our Chapaton (sewage) retention basin in St. Clair Shores to significantly reduce Combined Sewer Overflows (CSO) into Lake St. Clair. Why? Because we believe the lake is best protected when we reduce the amount of sewage — treated or otherwise — that runs into the lake.
Initially, EGLE supported this $30 million project by providing a $2 million grant. Now, EGLE is telling us that CSOs don’t impact water quality! About 2 weeks ago — about the time the green ooze was discovered coincidentally — we were told by EGLE that the grant was no longer happening and that it appears unlikely a permit would be issued for the Chapaton project.
Part of the reasoning, we are told by EGLE, is that if we reduce these CSO’s into Lake St. Clair, then other metro Detroit agencies would feel compelled to do the same. In other words, we shouldn’t clean up the lake because others would then have to spend money to do so as well.
“It would be very helpful to the lake and our environment if EGLE evaluated how their efforts have been working as a whole, eliminating where they work at cross purposes.
Initially, Miller had emerged as a strong supporter of Gov. Whitmer’s environmental protection efforts last February.