From the Headlines – October 18-22, 2022

Lead in Hamtramck: Hamtramck officials alerted residents this week that the city’s drinking water exceeded state lead limits during its annual test of residential water taps. The testing sampled water at 42 homes that were found to have lead at 17 parts per billion (ppb), higher than the 15 ppb action level set by state and federal lead and copper rules. “Lead release in drinking water can be sporadic, and we see that in Hamtramck where they’ve had lead action level exceedances on and off over the history of the lead and copper rule,” said Elin Betanzo, a water quality specialist who worked to uncover the Flint water crisis. “This is why getting the lead service lines out is so critical to public health protection.” This is Hamtramck’s eleventh action level exceedance in 30 years, according to Betanzo’s data. On Thursday, the city and Michigan’s Department of Health and Human Services gave out free water filters and replacement cartridges. It’s unclear if this distribution will be repeated. There are roughly 5,900 lead service lines still in place in the city. (Detroit News)

Benton Harbor blame game: On Thursday, Michigan’s House Oversight Committee called on state officials to comment on the ongoing lead drinking water crisis in Benton HarborLiesl Clark, director of the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy, seemed to dodge the question of whether the city’s water was safe to drink or not, before saying, “No, it’s not. People should be drinking bottled water.” She added that Benton Harbor’s water will not be safe until all lead service lines are removed, something Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has said will be done in the next 18 months. Clark and others stressed that it was ultimately the Legislature’s responsibility to approve the necessary funds for replacing lead service lines. Benton Harbor Mayor Marcus Muhammad was also called on at the hearing and asked why the city had waited until this week to declare an emergency. “At the end of the day, we can declare a state of emergency, but without the money and the resources, nothing can be done,” Muhammad said. The predominantly African American city of 9,600 is one of the poorest in Michigan with a poverty rate of roughly 45 percent. On Tuesday, a recall petition was launched against the mayor. On Wednesday a water main feeding Benton Harbor’s water tower broke, cutting off service city-wide. (Freep, Detroit News, MLive)

PFAS roadmap: The Biden administration has released a “strategic roadmap” for dealing with toxic PFAS, the so-called “forever chemicals” which have been found at a number of locations in Michigan and could be present at more than 120,000 sites nationally. While activists have praised aspects of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) plan, some say it does little to speed up the Department of Defense’s response to PFAS contamination at military sites like the former Wurtsmith Air Force Base in Oscoda. “For communities like Oscoda all over the county, this means more of the same — delays, inaction, excuses and a real failure to approach this with the urgency that’s needed,” said Tony Spaniola, an attorney and activist. Others have complained that the EPA’s plan doesn’t regulate PFAS as a class of chemicals, but rather looks to regulate them one by one, an approach favored by industry. Some actions included in the EPA’s plan are:

  • Proposing national drinking water limits for two common forms of PFAS, PFOS and PFOA, by fall 2023.
  • Designating these chemicals as hazardous substances under the Superfund law, which would allow the EPA to force polluters to clean up contamination and reimburse taxpayers.  
  • Putting out a national PFAS testing strategy.
  • Beginning national drinking water monitoring for PFAS.
  • Releasing toxicity standards for a number of PFAS chemicals like GenX, PFBA, PFHxA, PFHxS, PFNA and PFDA as well as singling out certain sub-categories for regulation as a group. (MLive, Guardian)

‘Some issues’: Macomb County Public Works Commissioner Candice Miller says that inspections have revealed “some issues” at the Chapaton pump station near 9 Mile Road during June’s heavy rainstorms. All three of the building’s pumps were operating during the downpour, but alarms were going off and the building was shaking. Miller says she doesn’t believe these issues contributed to widespread flooding in the area, but her department is designing an alternate pump station next to the existing facility. Miller’s announcement follows her vocal criticism of the Great Lakes Water Authority’s performance in June. “No infrastructure can completely handle the kind of rain events we had in June and July,” she said. “But when you criticize, you’d better make sure you’re taking care of your own backyard” (Detroit News)

Room for improvement: Trees were a hot topic at a hearing of the House Energy Committee in Lansing, where DTE Energy and Consumers Energy put forward plans to improve tree trimming to prevent power outages like the widespread blackouts that cut power to roughly a million Michigan customers in August. Trevor Lauer, president and chief operating officer for DTE, said the company will invest an extra $70 million in tree trimming–on top of its current $190 million annual trimming budget–in an effort to improve reliability and “rebuild trust” with ratepayers. However, Lauer did not commit to making these improvements without raising rates. In September, Planet Detroit reported that DTE had cut trees every nine years on average when the industry standard is five years. According to the Energy Information Administration, Michigan ranked fourth-highest nationally for average annual power interruptions in 2019. (Detroit News, Planet Detroit)

Security details: On Tuesday, an activist protesting Enbridge’s Line 5 pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac entered a fenced area in Tuscola County and manually shut off a valve for the pipeline. Protesters had notified Enbridge of the action in advance and the company shut down the pipeline remotely. The Free Press notes that a Facebook Live broadcast of the action lasted for an hour, without interference from police or security, raising questions about “the monitoring of the pipeline and its reported safety system with built-in redundancies and constant monitoring, as there was no visible response to the act witnessed during the hour-long incident.” Enbridge has continued operating Line 5 despite Whitmer’s order to shut it down in May. In July 2010, a spill from another Enbridge pipeline contaminated 38 miles of the Kalamazoo River and required a $1 billion cleanup. (Freep) 

Computer world: Blue Triton Brands (FKA Nestle Water North America) has abandoned a water pumping permit in Osceola County that generated pushback and an ongoing legal battle. That permit would have allowed the company to pump out water at 250 to 400 gallons per minute (gpm) for water bottling. Blue Triton says it now wants to pump water at 288 gpm, a rate that will require less monitoring and fewer regulatory hurdles. Crucially, the company could monitor extraction with computer modeling rather than taking measurements in the field, a move that advocates say could allow the company to ignore lower water levels in nearby Twin Creek and Chippewa Creek, which have coincided with the current extraction rate of 250 gpm. “They are still pumping the streams dry,” said Peggy Case, president of Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation. “We have our own physical evidence but that’s not good enough for anybody. We don’t have credentials, so they just ignore us and go back to their computer models.” (MLive)


Our reporting 

runs deep.

Get the latest local enviro news in your inbox with Planet Detroit.

Scroll to Top