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Whitmer: More criminal charges possible for owner of toxic ooze facility

via Twitter

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer says she’s considering more criminal charges against the owner of a hazardous waste facility that gushed toxic green ooze onto I-696 in Oakland County earlier this month.

Gary Sayers, owner of the former Electro-Plating Services in Madison Heights, is already facing a year in federal prison for environmental crimes.

After years of violations, state environmental regulators found the facility brimming with improperly-stored toxic chemicals in 2016. The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) and the U.S. EPA remediated the site in 2017, but left some contaminated liquid in the basement, where rain and groundwater gradually turned into an oozing river of toxic hexavalent chromium that made its way to the highway.

In a statement issued on Monday, Whitmer said she’s “actively reviewing all means of accountability, including further criminal charges,” against Sayers. She also ordered EGLE to “conduct a formal review of its pollution inspection procedures to strengthen enforcement and accountability.”

Whitmer also laid blame for the incomplete remediation on a lack of state government support for EGLE.

“This situation demonstrates the need for broad reforms to address problems of critical underfunding and understaffing at the department following eight years of one-party control in Lansing,” she said. “It’s time for Republicans in the legislature to ensure EGLE has the technology and resources it needs to keep the public safe."

Whitmer also called on state lawmakers to pass “polluter pay” legislation proposed by Democrats that would “force polluters to clean up the mess they make.” Sayers has already been ordered to re-pay the EPA $1.5 million in clean-up costs.

As of Sunday, EGLE was using sump pumps to siphon water from the I-696 embankment where the chemical oozed onto the highway. The agency says U.S. EPA will be onsite for soil testing that will inform “a permanent clean-up plan for the site” later this week.

Preliminary test results showed “no threat to drinking water, but substantial contamination of soil and groundwater near the site,” according to EGLE. The agency said that based on those results, the concentration of hexavalent chromium that flowed through the sewer system to Lake St. Clair “would be well below detectable levels although still a significant concern for incremental accumulation in the ecosystem.” It’s unclear how long the chemical has been leaking from the site.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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