State officials are urging the public to avoid all contact with Huron River water in a stretch of the river in Oakland and Livingston counties, after learning of a company’s release of potentially harmful hexavalent chromium into the Wixom sewer treatment system that outflows into the river.
The Michigan departments of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy and Health and Human Services recommended Tuesday afternoon that until further notice, people and pets avoid contact with Huron River water in an area from North Wixom Road in Oakland County and Kensington Road in Livingston County. In Oakland County this includes Norton Creek downstream of the Wixom Wastewater Treatment Plant and Hubbell Pond, also known as Mill Pond. The potentially affected area also includes Kent Lake in Oakland and Livingston counties.
For the described area, residents and their pets are encouraged to avoid drinking water directly from the Huron River; swimming or wading in the river; watering plants or lawns with Huron River water, or eating fish caught in this section of the river. A “do not eat the fish” advisory was already in place for this area because of contamination with the nonstick chemical PFOS.
Chemical released, hexavalent chromium, is a known carcinogen
Tribar Manufacturing, an automotive trim manufacturer in Wixom, informed state officials Monday afternoon that it had released several thousand gallons of a liquid containing 5% hexavalent chromium into the sewer system. Company officials said they discovered the release Monday but indicated it may have started as early as Saturday morning, according to Wixom city officials. It is believed that much of the contaminant already made its way through the Wixom treatment plant by the time the release was discovered.
“This is a significant release into a large, much-loved waterway,” said EGLE Director Liesl Clark in a statement. “Our teams are in the field now assessing the situation. We will stay on the job as long as it takes to ensure residents are safe and impacts to the ecosystem are minimized.”
Hexavalent chromium is a known carcinogen that can cause a number of adverse health effects through ingestion, skin contact or inhalation. OSHA’s website says “chromium metal is added to alloy steel to increase hardenability and corrosion resistance.”
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EGLE was taking river water samples Tuesday from multiple areas downstream from the treatment plant and was working with local and state health officials to assess the extent of the contamination. Testing is also taking place within the Tribar facility and the Wixom wastewater treatment plant. Monitoring will continue in coming days and weeks.
Results from sampling may take days to receive, officials said.
No threat seen to drink water
The state advisory “is being made to help protect the health and safety of families who live, work and play in the Huron River in the affected area,” said MDHHS Director Elizabeth Hertel. “As we gather additional information through sampling, this recommendation may change or be expanded.”
Officials stressed that they saw no immediate threat to drinking water. The highest drinking water intake is in Ann Arbor. Time-of-travel modeling indicates it would take the contaminant at least several weeks to make its way to the city’s water intakes. The city has been notified of the release and is also taking steps to monitor incoming water.
Tribar Manufacturing was identified as the source of PFAS contamination to the river system in recent years, and installed additional filtration to help address that problem.
State regulators said they will investigate the circumstances of the weekend release at the facility, but stressed that the immediate concern is ensuring the protection of the environment and public health.
Contact Keith Matheny: email@example.com.