Fully cleaning up the source of the toxic green ooze found on Interstate-696 last month could cost taxpayers millions, according to officials.
Although the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency emergency response team has been vacuuming contaminated groundwater for more than three weeks, fully cleaning up the site includes removing contaminated soils from beneath the former Electro-Plating Service business, according to the Detroit Free Press.
Doing so comes with a hefty price tag.
“I could throw out a number just to be dramatic. Is it $2 million? Is it $10 million? I don’t know,” said Tracy Kecskemeti, Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) southeast Michigan district coordinator, during a Michigan House Appropriations Committee hearing in Lansing on Wednesday.
Kecskemeti called removing the contaminated groundwater a “short-term Band-aid” to the real issue.
“As the groundwater moves through, we’re going to be perpetually generating contaminated groundwater if we don’t address the source of the contamination, which is underneath that building,” she said.
EPS owner Gary Sayers is currently serving a one-year sentence for illegal storage of hazardous waste. Sayers was ordered to pay the federal government nearly $1.5 million for a cleanup at the same location in 2017. Restitution has not yet been received, Kecskemeti said.
Sayers has been under scrutiny from EGLE since the 1990s.
EGLE and others have raised concerns about Sayers’ long-running track record, which includes four warning letters and multiple visits to Sayers-owned sites.
“I’m not proud of a history that goes back to 1995 and allows a violator like this to do business in our community,” Kecskemeti said. “This timeline is not something that I’m proud of.”
A similar sentiment was echoed by Rep. Sheryl Kennedy (D-28-Davison).
“The toxic green ooze we see spilling into our communities today is a symptom of a systemic problem that we, as legislators, need to address in a number of ways,” Kennedy said in a statement.
Kennedy said that the state should address groundwater contamination “with the same intensity” as drinking water. She also called for legislation changes that prevent repeat offenders like Sayers, as well as an investment in technology that “allows EGLE to monitor, prioritize and provide transparency to the public.”
“Above all else, we need to ensure EGLE receives the financial support it needs to properly do the work necessary to keep Michiganders safe,” Kennedy said.
State Rep. Shane Hernandez (R-83-Port Huron), chairman of the committee, also expressed concern over communication between EGLE and local officials. Hernandez’s district includes an area also potentially contaminated by Sayers.
“I have concerns that if there wasn’t this great, newsworthy image of a green ooze literally coming out of the sidewall of 696, we wouldn’t have the communication that we have today,” Hernandez said, according to the Detroit Free Press.
Cleaning costs for the contaminated groundwater have already surpassed $200,00, according to Kecskemeti.
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Jordyn Pair is a reporter with Battleground State News and The Michigan Star. Follow her on Twitter at @JordynPair. Email her at [email protected]
Photo “Madison Height Green Ooze” by Click on Detroit.