Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality is running out of money to clean-up underground industrial pollution sites that threaten the state’s drinking water. The Detroit News reports that the DEQ Part 201 program funds have dwindled to $11 million, down from the former $1.3 billion. The Great Lakes State currently has about 6,000 sites requiring cleanup, and it is doubtful that few more than a handful of them will be contained, let alone remediated.
Many of these sources of pollution originate from so-called ”orphan” sites — the industries repsonsible for the leaking toxins are long gone, frequently out of business for decades. The materials were either not properly contained in the first place, or the containment has degraded or failed allowing plumes of pollution to migrate through ground water.
The EPA lists 58 sites in Michigan it is monitoring that are of grave concern, and the state has yet to realize the impact of the sequester on federal funding. Don’t expect any help there.
All this, while the DEQ scrambles to inspect and assess the environmental threat of mountains of petroelum coke (pet coke) which suddenly appeared along the banks of the Detroit River next to the Ambassador Bridge. Pet coke is a coal-like by-product of refining tar sands oil. Marathon Petroleum generated the pet coke, but the mountains are currently owned by Detroit Bulk Storage. Residents and officials are concerned that rain could leach the toxin into the river, and that wind could pick up the dust and contaminate the surrounding area. The owner of the pet coke insists that as soon as the river thaws, they will relocate the product.
But, what if the worst does occur in Detroit?
Getting corporations to step-up and take responsibility for assessment and remediation is like pulling teeth. Earlier this month, Enbridge, Inc., the Canadian company responsible for the 2010 oil spill that released 800,000 gallons into the Kalamazoo River, refused to help pay for two assessment studies, claiming that enough studying had already been done.
It’s not just about money — it’s the attitude. Myopic corporations, who rarely see past the next quarter and have demonstratively failed at long-term planning, would naturally not understand the need to engage in a longitudinal assessment. However, not all corporations dodge clean-up and mitigation responsibilities. Dow Chemical leaked dioxin, a poisonous chlorine by-product, into the Tittabawassee River from 1890 to 1970. Dow continues to work on the long process of cleaning the river, segment by segment, reassessing and monitoring as they go.
But, with Michigan’s corporate friendly congress continuing to legislate-away environmental protections and oversight, while these polluters contribute heavily to lawmakers’ campaign funds, things are destined to get much worse in the Great Lakes State before they get any better.
Amy Kerr Hardin This article also appears in Voters Legislative Transparency Project