Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Monday ordered Michigan’s environmental agency to review its pollution-inspection procedures after the discovery of a bright green substance along the shoulder of a major interstate in suburban Detroit.
Whitmer called the ooze — groundwater contaminated by industrial waste from Electro-Plating Services in Madison Heights — “very concerning” and said it shows the need for “broad reforms” to address underfunding and understaffing at the Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy following eight years of one-party control in Lansing.
The Democrat urged the Republican-led Legislature to help better fund the agency and to pass stalled Democratic-sponsored legislation to ensure polluters pay for cleanup.
“Working with federal and local partners, my administration will stay focused on cleaning up contaminated sites sooner, addressing root causes and holding polluters accountable,” Whitmer said in a statement. She ordered EGLE to formally review its pollution-inspection procedures to strengthen enforcement and accountability.
High levels of multiple contaminants were found in soil and groundwater at the site when an inspection was triggered after the brightly colored goo was seen Dec. 20 seeping through a concrete barrier along Interstate 696.
Electro-Plating Services was shut down by state regulators in 2016 due to mismanagement of industrial waste, after nearly 50 years of operation, and Madison Heights revoked the company’s occupancy permit. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency conducted a cleanup in 2017, removing toxic chemicals and pumping contaminated liquid from an earthen pit, but it “was not intended to address all environmental impacts,” the state has said.
In November, Electro-Plating was sentenced to probation and ordered to pay restitution of nearly $1.5 million. The owner, Gary Sayers, 77, was given a year in federal prison for illegally storing hazardous waste. In 2005, he had pleaded guilty in state court to illegally transporting hazardous waste.
Whitmer said her administration was looking into whether further criminal charges could be filed “against the polluter who caused this mess.”
The state earlier this year concluded that the site posed no risk to drinking water and there was a low risk for the migration of contaminates off site.
“This current incident indicates that there may be a preferential flow path offsite that was previously unknown,” EGLE said in a document released Monday, adding that state and federal governments were evaluating the site for further state-funded remediation.
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said her department would do everything in its power to assist the Whitmer administration, including by creating a unit to focus on environmental prosecutions.