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Judge gives green light to demolish "green ooze" site buildings

green ooze
Michigan Dept. of Transportation

After a lengthy trial, Circuit Court Judge Hala Jarbou says the city of Madison Heights has the right to tear down most of the buildings on the site of Electro-Plating Services, owned by Gary Sayers.

Pollution on the site was responsible for a bright green spill of liquid onto I-696 in late December last year.

State environmental investigators found the "green ooze" contained high levels of hexavalent chromium, a known carcinogen.  

Owner Gary Sayers had earlier been sentenced to nearly one year in prison for repeatedly flouting federal and state chemical storage laws, including dumping chemicals into an unlined pit he'd dug in the basement of one of his buildings. Sayers began his sentence in early 2020, but is being released early to home confinement because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Investigators say inspections found that the main building, where the unlined pit was located, was in poor condition, had multiple workplace hazards, was strewn with thousands of containers of chemicals, many unidentified and uncovered, as well as having holes in the roof and part of the floor missing on an upper level.

The judge's order allows the city to try to recoup the cost of the demolition from Sayers, although it is unclear if he has any source of income other than his now-defunct electroplating business. Sayers also owes the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency $1.5 million for the cost of a partial cleanup, which was done before the spill in late December.

State officials said during the trial that until the buildings are torn down, they will be unable to do further cleanup, because the buildings impede access to the foundation and soils underneath, which could be highly saturated with toxic chemicals used in the electroplating industry.

Sayers' attorney, James Sullivan, says he has not yet communicated with his client to find out if he wants to appeal Judge Jarbou's order. 

Sullivan argued during the trial that Madison Heights officials had a personal animosity against Sayers and wanted to drive him out of business. He also presented an expert witness who said most of the buildings were not structurally unsound.

Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Public. She began her career at Michigan Public as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.
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