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Concerned citizens pose questions to panel on I-696 ooze clean-up

Posted at 9:01 AM, Feb 04, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-04 09:01:29-05

Clean-up at Electro-Plating Services in Madison Heights continues, more than a month after contaminated neon-colored ooze leaked from the plant down onto the I-696 freeway.

The company’s owner, Gary Sayers, is already serving time in federal prison for repeated environmental-related offenses at the property.

Monday, dozens of concerned citizens attended a public briefing on the status of the site's clean-up and other questions surrounding the Dec. 20 incident.

“I think people have a legitimate right to be concerned, I’m concerned as well," said Oakland County Executive David Coulter.

FULL COVERAGE: I-696 CONTAMINATION CRISIS

Many people wanted to know why the EPA didn't do more to stop Sayers' continued pollution and improper chemical storage when the agency was tipped off back in 2016.

An EPA spokesperson explained Monday that the agency's main task in 2016 was to eliminate immediate safety hazards, not to investigate soil or groundwater contamination.

The site did not meet the federal standards to quality as an EPA Superfund site.

“Don’t tell me it’s not going to affect my property value. I don’t believe it," said one of the meeting's attendees.

Other than property values, people expressed concern about their health, and, if Sayers is in prison, who will be held responsible for the future of the site and it's costs.

"They’re not answering the questions about what’s going to happen in the future. Who’s going to pay for this continued issue of pollution in our state," said Jamesa Johnson, who attended the meeting.

She said the explanation of the clean-up process was helpful, but felt like she left without some of her questions being answered.

The meeting, which was scheduled to end at 8 p.m., went an additional 30 minutes due to the high volume of questions.

“We’re still in triage place right now," said EGLE spokesperson Jill Greenberg. "And we’re continuing taking samples to establish a perimeter of where the contamination is moving.”

So far, the EPA has collected more than 63,000 gallons of contaminated liquid from the site. Last week, the EPA installed a bypass system to reroute unaffected storm water around the area of contamination and dug an interceptor trench to capture additional contaminated ground water.

Madison Height’s municipal drinking water is safe the panel said, and any contamination that moved to Lake St. Clair via storm sewers is in such low concentration, that EGLE doesn’t believe the water quality should be affected.

As far the demolition of the site goes, Sayers is financially on the hook according to Oakland County.

“Obviously he’s in jail now, we’re not sure we can get any money out of him. And rather than go through a protracted court battle, the county is going to assist Madison Heights with those demolition efforts," Coulter told Action News.

The EPA said all test results will be made public and updated on their website as the information becomes available.

The panel estimated that total costs for the site's remediation will be in the millions, but said frankly -- right now the state doesn't have the money to fully foot the bill.

There's not an exact timeline for when work will be completed either; the next long term plan could take weeks to establish.

Both EGLE and the AG's office are exploring additional enforcement measures against Sayers.

The EPA, EGLE, MDOT, and the City of Madison Heights are all collaborating to address the problem.