Madison Heights toxic site was 'the worst I've ever seen,' EPA witness says at trial

January 14, 2020, 7:51 AM

Vivid descriptions of toxic hazards at Electro-Plating Service in Madison Heights emerge at a civil trial that began this week.

(Photos: EPA)


The city wants jailed owner Gary Sayers of Bloomfield Hills to finance demolition of three condemned buildings at his former business on East 10 Mile Road, blamed for the bright green waste that oozed downhill onto I-696 in late December.

Sayers last week began a nearly one-year prison term for violating state and federal laws hazardous material disposal laws. He also is ordered to repay $1.5-million in costs of a cleanup by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

He's not at the trial or expected to testify.

Michigan Radio reporter-producer Tracy Samilton describes what she heard Monday at the nonjury trial in Oakland County Circuit Court:

When the EPA's Jeffrey Lippert first went inside Electro-Plating Services in early 2017, he said, he was stunned. He called the conditions "awful."

Lippert described seeing thousands of leaking, rusty containers of toxic liquids, many open to the air and unlabeled. Acid had eaten away an I-beam. Part of the floor on the third level was missing and rain poured through holes in the roof.

An unlined earthen pit dug into the ground in the basement was filled with green liquid contaminated with hexavalent chromium, a known carcinogen.

"I mean, this, this, it was the worst I've ever seen," he testified.

Bronze-plating tank at the Oakland County plant in May 2017. 

A district supervisor for the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) said the contaminated buildings and soil underneath can't be removed unless the former factory is razed, the broadcaster reports.

Defense attorney James Sullivan of Grosse Pointe Farms challenged regulators' claims of a need to level the building, asking witnesses to explain the four-month gap between a state shutdown order in December 2016 and the start of cleanup. He also asked why the EPA work ended in 2017, even though investigators testified that they knew groundwater likely would refill a basement pit.

The Madison Heights company on 10 Mile Road is alongside a now-closed eastbound I-696 exit ramp to Couzens Avenue. (Photo: Google Earth)

Madison Heights city attorney Jeffrey Sherman said the site "constitutes a public health hazard," according to Detroit News coverage.

"The defendant will argue that no injuries have occurred there but it doesn’t mean the city should wait for that to happen," Sherman said. ... "Any pollution or contaminant entering this [stormwater] system ends up in the state’s lakes and rivers." ...

More than 20,000 gallons of known contaminated liquid have been recovered from the pits, including 5,000 containers leaking on the property and into groundwater, according to investigators.

In a related development, the state EGLE agency reports Monday that last weekend it investigated potentially hazardous chemicals at a Detroit property owned by Sayers:

Detroit Fire Department inspectors discovered suspicious liquids in several pits at the location, 5900 Commonwealth St., on Friday. Some pits were reportedly empty and others partially filled with liquid – some of which resembled the green contamination from Sayers’ Madison Heights facility.

The department "will test the liquids in the various pits to determine the types of waste/contaminants to ensure appropriate and proper disposal," it posted.

Back in Madison Heights, cleanup work has shut the eastbound I-696 exit to Couzens Avenue indefinitely. It also blocks the far right lane of a northbound I-75 ramp to eastbound I-696.

Here's a two-minute Fox 2 News trial report:

Read more:  Michigan Radio

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