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Huron River chromium spill investigation zeroes in on Milford pond

do not eat fish
Caution tape and an “avoid contact” notice now join the long-standing “do not eat the fish” sign at Milford’s Central Park, after a hexavalent chromium release added new contamination to a river already plagued by PFAS. (Bridge photo by Kelly House)
  • Scientists found the carcinogenic metal in two samples from Hubbell Pond
  • Both samples were below levels concerning to aquatic life
  • Don’t touch advisory remains in place while testing continues

Aug. 10: State: Tribar staffer ignored 460 alarms in Huron River chromium release

Scientists working to identify the size and severity of a hexavalent chromium plume in the Huron River are now focusing on Milford’s Hubbell Pond, after two water sample results on Friday revealed the presence of the toxic metal. 

Those samples, a sliver of the thirty samples collected on Thursday from sites throughout the river, showed a “low level” presence of the metal, according to a release from the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy.

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A don’t touch advisory remains in effect for the section of the river from North Wixom Road in Oakland County and Kensington Road in Livingston County, after a recent release of some 10,000 gallons of liquid containing the toxic metal from a Wixom automotive supplier that uses it to chrome-plate auto parts.

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State officials instituted the advisory Tuesday, after Tribar Manufacturing alerted regulators a day earlier to chromium release that may have begun as early as Saturday. 

A known carcinogen, hexavalent chromium is linked to lung cancer and other health issues, which can cause health problems when ingested, inhaled, or exposed to skin.

Neither of the two chromium-containing samples collected from Hubbell Pond exceeded 11 parts per billion, the threshold after which state regulators consider chromium levels unsafe for long-term exposure by fish and other aquatic life. One sample came in at 9 parts per billion, and the other at 11.

EGLE scientists took more samples Friday from upstream, downstream, and within the pond, with results still pending.

Testing also continues on sewage in the Wixom treatment plant, where Wixom city officials told Bridge they hope much of the chromium may have settled as it passed through the facility along with sewage sludge.

It’s still unknown how the release occurred, and Tribar has not answered Bridge questions about the incident, through the company released a statement Thursday saying Tribar is cooperating with local and state agencies and "takes the health and safety of our neighbors and community, as well as the protection of the environment, very seriously."

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Jeff Gearhart, research director at the Ann Arbor-based advocacy nonprofit Ecology Center, said the new results should help the state narrow its search and conduct “more intensive testing” to better understand how much chromium has made it into the pond.

“Now we can kind of spread out upstream and downstream from there, try to understand the extent of spread,” Gearhart said. 

Gearhart stopped short of celebrating the low-level detections, noting that it’s still unclear how chromium concentrations elsewhere in the plume compare to Friday’s results.

“We don’t know if (Friday’s results) are at the low end, the middle end or the high end of what’s in the river,” Gearhart said.

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