Monday, January 21, 2008

A Saga of an Inhabited Wasteland: Part II

By Jason Tafilowski

It looks like any other rural setting with rolling hills and trees with the sun giving the dead grass a golden crispness while it waves gently from the wind. The only other objects in the horizon are houses, a decrepit old fence, and a for sale sign. This old mound has a dirty little secret, it’s a former landfill.

The Six Star landfill is hardly unique; it is one of nine landfills in the immediate area of Hamlin and Dequindre, only it is for sale for $2.9 million by Simon Property Disposition LLC. The site like the other landfills is close to a number of recreation areas and with any luck could become a park or a subdivision itself someday.

The 59 acres is currently zoned R-4 residential, meaning that 4 residential houses per acre can be built on the site. The owner of the landfill Kenneth Frantz said in an e-mail: “Some types of development would not require any clean up at all, such as use as a park or sports facility.” The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) has found that contaminants are within the state’s acceptable limits for residential building.

Frantz goes on to say: “The only issue might be methane, but even that is uncertain.” In 2000 a house right next to the landfill on Parke Street blew up. The explosion was widely attributed to the Six Star site. Frantz claims “…the methane levels from the closed Helen Allen Park landfill (across the street from the house that was destroyed) were in the 90% range.”

The Helen Allen park landfill is owned by the Southeastern Oakland County Resource Recovery Authority. The authority was created in 1951 by Oakland County municipalities to get rid of area waste and is still operating.

Helen Allen Park used to be a city park, but the park was relocated, all that remains are pipes that monitor methane levels.

In 2002 the DEQ asked authority officials to investigate high methane levels. According to Frantz “…the methane levels at the Six Star site were actually fairly low.”

Regardless of which landfill caused the explosion there is still a remaining park containing a baseball diamond within walking distance of the Parke Street home that blew up.

The Parke Street explosion continues to worry local residents when methane issues arise. Four years after the explosion the Detroit News did an article on methane gas that was detected near homes from Freedom Hill County Park. The Parke Street explosion still rang clear in people’s memories and even prompted some residents to consider selling their house.

There is nothing unusual about landfills being converted into recreational areas. The EPA even encourages it, providing pamphlets for converting toxic Superfund sites into parks. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) has a pamphlet concerning Michigan’s liability laws for people thinking of buying contaminated land.

Some of the worst toxic Superfund sites in Oakland and Macomb counties are very close to recreational areas.

Hi-Mill Manufacturing is bordered on three sides to The Highland State Recreation Area. Hi-Mill is located right off M-59 in Highland Township and makes aluminum, brass, and copper tubing parts and fittings for the refrigeration industry.

Hi-Mill is a superfund site that has gotten worse with time. Even after the remedial action plan was set into place in 1993 contamination has gotten 35 times worse.

The last EPA Five-Year report found that “Institutional controls currently in place do not address exposure pathways to contamination that has migrated beyond property boundaries.”
The report also found that two community wells that were installed in 1998 “…may be drawing in contaminated water from the Hi-Mill manufacturing site into the drinking water system.” These wells along with two others serve 1,308 residents.

Other Hi-Mill issues in the past include on site contaminated drinking water with bottled water having to be supplied to employees.

They used to dispose of liquid waste into chemical lagoons. The lagoons had a tendency to overflow and it was found that they were spraying chemical waste into the air to prevent the overflow of the lagoon.

Despite all of these continued problems Hi-Mill received no requested funding in 2002 according to the Inspector General’s report. The Inspector General’s report has found a statewide problem of insufficiently funded superfund clean up sites. As a result the report notes that EPA regional offices have begun to request less money because of the lack of funding. Taxpayers have been paying more to clean up Superfund sites. In 1995 Superfund’s “polluter pays fees” expired. According to the Public Interest Research Group in Michigan, 1995 taxpayers paid $9.6 million to clean up Superfund sites as opposed to 2004 which cost taxpayers $40 million.

The Hi-Mill Manufacturing site costs around $23,000 per year to maintain. They pay a contractor to maintain the site. This is consistent with the J & L landfill (which neighbors the Six Star site.) which is estimated to cost around $25,000 with the EPA and MDEQ picking up the tab.

The G & H landfill in Utica cost $451,000 last year just to maintain. Though like the Hi-Mill site it is being funded by the parties responsible for the contamination.

The G & H landfill which is located at 23 mile and Ryan is also next to a number of water sources such as the Holland Ponds Natural Area and Rookery, the Clinton River, and Clear Spring Lake which is a large lake that serves a subdivision.

According to an EPA Five-Year Report, one of the original reasons for taking action was threats to people using recreational areas. People were in direct contact with contaminated soil and water.

The EPA responded by shutting down recreational trails near the site and blocking off the area.

Though the G & H site is properly contained at the moment, the 99 monitoring wells still show dangerous on-site levels of arsenic and benzene.

A recent Five-Year EPA Report reveals that a study is underway to determine whether portions of the site can be “returned to productive use by the surrounding community.”

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