Wayne County Hosts Highest Number of Contaminated Sites in Michigan

The federal Superfund Program was created in 1980 to respond to releases of hazardous substances in the environment. The Superfund Program protects the public and the environment, making communities safer, healthier, and more economically viable.

Superfund sites are some of the most significant and expensive sites of environmental contamination. Superfund sites include all sites in the United States where the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has identified contamination with hazardous waste. When the EPA determines that a site requires cleanup, the site is placed on the National Priorities List (NPL). As of 2017, Michigan has 65 sites listed on the NPL. An additional 19 sites that were previously on the NPL have been deleted because all necessary response actions were completed.

NPL sites fit within three categories:

  1. Proposed NPL site,
  2. Current NPL site, and
  3. Deleted NPL site.

A proposed NPL site means that hazardous substances have been identified at the site, and it has been recommended to the federal Superfund Program for clean-up. Current NPL sites are those that have been accepted by the Superfund Program and are undergoing clean-up. The deleted NPL sites are those that have completed the process of clean-up, and they have been deemed protective of public health, and the environment.

Sites in the Superfund Program may be managed in a variety of ways. The EPA, the state, or private parties may implement the cleanup. The Superfund law allows for enforcement actions which make private parties conduct the cleanup if they were responsible for the contamination. Where there are responsible parties, the EPA may take the enforcement lead with the state providing support (36 sites in Michigan). In some cases, the state may take the enforcement lead on particular sites (10 sites in Michigan).

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality also has sites for remediation called Baseline Environmental Assessments (BEA). BEA sites are facilities with a history of use of chemicals. The sites may be classified into several categories, including Part 201 (i.e., having one or more contaminants) and Part 213 (i.e., having leaking underground storage tanks). Remediation of these sites includes activities to manage and reduce risks of environmental contamination. This may be achieved through activities such as: initial evaluation, interim response, remedial investigation, land and resource use restrictions, and monitoring.

All Contaminated Sites in Michigan by County: BEA, Part 201, Part 213, and Superfund NPL Sites

The map below of the state of Michigan includes BEA, 201, and 213 contaminated sites, as well as Superfund NPL sites. Each color on the map represents the range of BEA, 201, and 213 contaminated sites per county or the actual total. For example, many of the counties with a smaller total number of contaminated sites are designated with a color that is also associated with a range. However, Kent, Macomb and Wayne counties are designated with a color that directly associates to the total number of contaminated sites in that county. The map shows that Wayne County contains the largest number of contaminated sites 7,078 sites. Kent County has 3,499 contaminated sites and Macomb County has 2,315.

All Contaminated Sites in Wayne County by Municipality: BEA, Part 201, Part 213, and Superfund NPL Sites

The regional map below includes BEA, 201, and 213 contaminated sites, as well as active Superfund NPL contaminated sites and deleted NPL sites. Each color on the map represents the range of BEA, 201, and 213 contaminated sites per city (e.g., Highland Park = 124-285 sites). A green circle indicates a deleted NPL site, while a yellow diamond indicates an active NPL site. The map shows that Detroit contains the greatest number of contaminated sites in Wayne County, with a total of 3,648 (the color red does provide a range, based off the range before it, but Detroit is the only city within the last range). Additionally, there is one deleted NPL Superfund site in Detroit and two in Wayne County. There is also an active NPL Superfund site in Wayne County, in Trenton.

Overall, as the second map below shows, a block in Southwest Detroit has the highest number of concentrated contaminated sites. On a larger scale though, the area just west of Woodward Avenue, south of Highland Park, has several blocks where there are at least one to six contaminated sites.

In this post we simply highlighted the counties and municipalities in the state with the highest number of contaminated sites. However, there is more to this conversation than just that. In a coming post we will also be taking a further dive into where much of these sites are located regionally, specifically Detroit, and the link between income and contaminated sites.

Wayne Disposal releases highest amount of mercury in the region

According to the Agency of Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, exposure to mercury, a naturally occurring element, can cause gastrointestinal, developmental, neurological, ocular, and renal damage. While the most common way humans are exposed to mercury is through consumption of fish and shellfish, we are also exposed to it when coal is burned. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the largest human cause of mercury emissions comes from burning coal. With this in mind, the EPA issued a mandate for mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants to be limited by 2015. By 2016 the mandate is to be fully implemented and mercury emissions are to be reduced by 90 percent, according to the EPA.

As presented by EnvironmentMichigan.org, above the top 10 mercury emitters by state (this includes coal-fired power plants and other emitters) are shown from 2010. Michigan came in at number 10, with facilities emitting 2,253 pounds of mercury into the atmosphere. Ohio, Indiana, and Pennsylvania were the three Great Lakes States that came in above Michigan. Texas was the state with the overall highest mercury emissions at 11,127 pounds.

Unlike the previous chart, this one shows the 2010 emissions for coal-fired power plants. In parallel with the first chart, Ohio, Indiana and Pennsylvania’s coal-fired power plant emissions were higher than Michigan’s.
In 2010, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council, Michigan based coal-fired power plants emitted 1,924 pounds of mercury into the air. In comparison, the following Great Lakes states produced these emissions from coal-fired power plants: Ohio power plants emitted 2,865 pounds, Pennsylvania emitted 2,720 pounds, Indiana emitted 2,174 pounds, Illinois emitted 1,484 pounds, Wisconsin emitted 1,269 pounds, Minnesota emitted 873 pounds and New York emitted 239 pounds.

The map above displays 2012 mercury releases for the 15 facilities in southeast Michigan that are permitted to release mercury. According the EPA, a chemical release means the material is emitted into the air or water or placed in a type of landfill for disposal.
DTE, released a total of 2,127.8 pounds of mercury from its five power plants in the region. The largest contributor to mercury releases from power plants was the DTE Monroe Power Plant at 985.7 pounds. The St. Clair DTE Power Plant released 426.26 pounds of mercury and the Belle River DTE Power Plant, just a few miles south of the St. Clair location, released 364.7 pounds of mercury in 2012. The Trenton Channel DTE Power Plant released 232.91 pounds and the River Rouge location released. 138.25 pounds.
The largest mercury releaser in 2012 was not a coal-fired power plant,
but a hazardous waste landfill:  Wayne Disposal had the highest mercury releases on a single permit, 2,192.48 pounds. The second largest mercury release site in the region, The Monroe power plant released 965.7 pounds of mercury in 2012, which is higher than what the Natural Resources Defense Council reported was emitted in 2010. Although information from 2010 was presented above, this map offers information from 2012 to show the most recent emissions. This same data was not readily available for 2010 and 2011.