Advance Notice: Briefs

DHHS warns residents after hazardous chromium spill in Huron River watershed

By: - August 3, 2022 3:43 pm

Martindale Beach at Kensington Metropark sits empty as signs announce the beach is closed due to potential hexavalent chromium contamination | Kyle Davidson

The Michigan Department of Health and Human services has issued a warning to southeast Michigan residents after hexavalent chromium was released in the Huron River.

At 3:21 p.m. Monday, Tribar Manufacturing in Wixom notified the Michigan Department of the Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) that it had released several thousand gallons of liquid containing 5% hexavalent chromium into the sewer system.

Residents with questions about hexavalent chromium exposure and its potential health effects can call the MI Toxic Hotline at 800-648-6942 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Hotline hours will be extended through this weekend from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Hexavalent chromium is a known carcinogen and can cause a variety of negative health effects when ingested, inhaled or comes in contact with skin. 

While the company says it discovered the spill on Monday, it indicated the spill may have started as early as Saturday morning, according to Wixom city officials. By the time the spill was discovered, EGLE believes most of the contaminant made its way through the Wixom wastewater treatment plant, which discharges into Norton Creek, part of the Huron River system. 

DHHS recommends people and pets avoid contact with Huron River water between North Wixom road in Oakland County and Kensington road in Livingston County. This includes Norton Creek, downstream from the treatment plant, as well as Hubbell Pond — or Mill Pond — in Milford, and Kent Lake, which is accessible through Kensington Metropark. 

DHHS advises against swimming, wading, playing or drinking water from these sections of the Huron River. It also advises against using Huron River water to water lawns or plants.

It also recommends against eating fish from these areas, though there is already another do not eat advisory in effect for PFOS, another harmful contaminant.

On Wednesday, EGLE sampled nine locations downstream from the Wixom treatment plant to track the pollutant’s location and is developing a testing plan for the coming days and weeks. They are also working with local and state health officials to assess the extent of the contamination. 

Results taken at the mouth of Norton Creek and in the Huron River downstream did not detect hexavalent chromium, but officials stressed these two samples aren’t enough evidence to draw conclusions about the pollutant’s effects on the watershed. 

Kensington Metropark closed Martindale beach on Kent Lake after the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services sent out notice about potential contamination | Kyle Davidson

Tests are also being conducted at the Tribar facility to better define the amount of contaminant discharged. 

Officials said there is no immediate threat to drinking water, as the nearest drinking water intake that could be impacted is in Ann Arbor. Models indicate it would take weeks for the spill to reach the city’s water intakes. City officials have been notified and will monitor incoming water. 

In recent years, Tribar Manufacturing was identified as the source of PFAS contamination in the river, installing additional filtration to address the issue. State regulators will be investigating the circumstances of the chromium release. 

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Kyle Davidson
Kyle Davidson

Kyle Davidson was a reporting intern for the Michigan Advance. A recent MSU graduate, Kyle studied journalism and political science. He has reported on community events, breaking news, state policy, and the environment for outlets including the Lansing State Journal, the Detroit Free Press and Capital News Service.