Mysterious green ooze on Michigan highway came from waste site whose owner is in prison

Taylor Nichole Morris, Detroit Free Press
A greenish-yellow liquid flows through a retaining wall on I-696, triggering a lane closure Friday afternoon and haz-mat clean-up Friday night, Dec. 20, 2019.

DETROIT – The mysterious, greenish-yellow liquid that ran onto a Michigan highway Friday came from a closed electroplating business whose owner is serving a year in federal prison for operating an unlicensed hazardous waste storage facility.

Lanes will remain closed until Monday after the fluid gushed from the walls of I-696 about a half mile from the Oakland-Macomb county line at Dequindre, according to Madison Heights Fire Department Capt. Kevin Powers.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was called to investigate and determined the liquid likely was groundwater contaminated with hexavalent chromium, according to the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE).

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EGLE said in a statement that the seepage was directly in line with Electro-Plating Services. Crews spent Friday night vacuuming the sewers and eventually started on the basement at Electro-Plating Services, where green liquid was found in the basement pit.

Workers were installing a pump in the basement pit to keep water levels down and "prevent more offsite migration," EGLE said.

"The bank of the expressway is significantly impacted," the agency said. "Sample results are now expected Tuesday. All agencies involved are meeting tomorrow at MDOT offices in Detroit."

EGLE, then the Department of Environmental Quality, issued the business a cease-and-desist order in December 2016 "for imminent and substantial threat due to the mismanagement of hazardous waste," the statement said.

The closed business's owner, Gary Sayers, pleaded guilty in April of operating an unlicensed hazardous waste storage facility and sentenced to one year in federal prison. 

EPA removed hazardous chemicals from the site after it was closed but did not remediate soil or groundwater contamination.  

More than 5,000 containers of hazardous chemicals were removed from the site, the Royal Oak Tribune reported.

“Mr. Sayers and his company … are responsible for the cleanup of the land,” Madison Heights City Attorney Jeff Sherman told the Tribune. “There are high levels of chromium in the soil."

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According to the U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Administration, hexavalent chromium is known to cause cancer at high levels of exposure.

"Chromium metal is added to alloy steel to increase hardenability and corrosion resistance," the agency website says, noting that the compound "may be used as pigment in dyes, paints, inks and plastics," and as an anti-corrosive agent.

State officials said the liquid was entering a storm sewer on I-696. While the spill is taking place outside Macomb County, any material that enters storm drains along I-696 eventually travels to Lake St. Clair, according to a news release from Macomb County Public Works. 

EGLE said a team of state investigators assessed the situation and determined there is no imminent risk to the public.

Contributing: Bill Laitner, Detroit Free Press

Follow Taylor Nichole Morris on Twitter: @taylormorriss13

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Green liquid gushing from walls on Michigan highway keeps lanes closed