According to records recently submitted by state authorities, it is now clear that a plant operator disregarded and then silenced a safety alarm at least 460 times in just a three-hour span while a significant release of a dangerous cancer-causing chemical flowed into Michigan’s Huron River last month.
On July 29, Tribar Manufacturing released roughly 10,000 gallons of a toxic material which contained approximately 5% hexavalent chromium into the wastewater treatment system of the city of Wixom, located in southeast Michigan.
Tribar manufacturers automobile components with a chrome finish.
The automotive supplier’s tank includes a chrome plating solution that contains hexavalent chromium, which has been linked to an increased risk of cancer.
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, prolonged exposure to the chemical can cause “irritation or damage to the eyes and skin if hexavalent chromium contacts these organs in high concentrations.”
“Due to the seriousness of the violations, EGLE has initiated accelerated enforcement, which will initiate an administrative consent order process and seek full cost recovery from Tribar,” the Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) announced on Wednesday (August 10).
“Please Explain” How Alarms Were Overridden
EGLE is demanding answers from the company on the actions its operator took that Friday (July 29) evening that resulted in the tank being drained into the Huron River.
“Please explain how the operator overrode the waste treatment alarms 460 times between the programmable logic controller time stamp of 4:59 p.m. to 7:46 p.m. on Friday, July 29, 2022,” the EGLE violation notice states.
The state of Michigan claims that Tribar has not been entirely forthcoming during the investigation, and the business did not report the chemical release until August 1.
On Wednesday (August 10), local activists, legislators, and business owners organized a demonstration, demanding that Tribar be held accountable for the discharge of toxic chemicals into the Huron River.
So far, the company has been issued a “Second Violation Notice — Egregious” by the state to Tribar Manufacturing, claiming company personnel:
- Improperly released pollutants into the publicly owned Wixom wastewater treatment facility.
- Failed to report the hexavalent chromium release in a timely fashion to the Wixom wastewater treatment plant.
- Failed to have an up-to-date, certified pollution incident prevention plan.
All of these offenses are violations of the Clean Water Act.
The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy’s Air Quality Division also filed violations for the failure to properly control metal treatment tanks—which may have led to unauthorized emissions of nickel and total chrome—and the failure to keep proper records, which would have documented the compliance with air permit conditions for a variety of processes.
These violations were filed on behalf of EGLE.
In nine surface water tests conducted from the river on August 3, the department found “no detectable presence” of hexavalent chromium in any of the samples.
State authorities are now increasing their environmental monitoring efforts by analyzing sewage waste from within the facility as well as 29 other locations.
Officials from Tribar Manufacturing, in a statement sent to the Detroit Free Press, blamed it all on a former employee.
“Tribar has invested millions of dollars in sophisticated environmental controls to prevent an accidental release of wastewater prior to treatment at our facility. Based on an initial investigation, those automated controls were all functioning properly at the time the plating solution was released to the wastewater treatment plant. However, the controls were repeatedly overridden by the operator on duty while the facility was shut down for the weekend. That individual is no longer employed by our company, and we are in the process of further improving our internal controls to prevent a future occurrence.”
Along the Huron River and within the Wixom wastewater treatment facility, a no-contact order will continue to be in effect for the area. It’s not known for how long.
Tribar has until August 20 to respond to the violation notices issued Wednesday (August 10).
The FBI is now involved with the investigation.
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