DEQ director and state officals take a look at the ongoing clean up in St. Louis



 SKIP TRAYNOR - THE MORNING SUN From right, Dan Wyant, director of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, and Senator John Moolanaar, R-36th District, speak with St. Louis resident Margaret Hoyt at the St. Louis Superfund site of the former Velsicol/Michigan Chemical plant Monday, Oct. 13, 2014.

Posted: 10/13/14, 2:40 PM EDT |



 SKIP TRAYNOR - THE MORNING SUN Dan Wyant, director of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, representatives from the Michigan House and Senate, and project engineers inspect the chemical collection trenches at the St. Louis Superfund site of the former Velsicol/Michigan Chemical plant Monday, Oct. 13, 2014.


By Linda Gittleman


It was not the first time Michigan Department of Environmental Quality Dan Wyant was in Gratiot County when he paid a visit on Monday.


As the former agricultural director for the state, he’d been in the area often.


But it was Wyant’s first time at one of the St. Louis Superfund sites, the former Velsicol plant site.


Wyant and and a few others including state Sen. John Moolenaar (R-Midland) who’s runnning for Dave Camp’s seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, state Sen. Judy Emmons, (R- Sheridan) who’s seeking re-election for the 33rd District, which now includes Gratiot, and Rick Outman (R-Six Lakes), who’s seeking re-election in the 70th, all were allowed on the plant site for a short tour.


No others were.

Matthew Baltusis, a geologist for the DEQ, said he’d provide a short history of the site and outline some of the chemicals in the “legacy” site, including DDT, PBB and various associated chemicals and solvents.


For his part, Wyant said he was visiting the Velsicol site on a fact finding mission and, because it’s a “significant investment” for the state and the issue is important.


The tour included the logs from the trees removed in the St. Louis neighborhoods close to the plant site as well as the contaminated soil, also removed, that all have been stockpiled there.


“I am pleased with the ongoing plan,” Moolenaar said after the tour. “The heat treatment technology - that appears to have worked in other areas.The most important is protecting human health and the next is the environment and the wildlife. A lot of progress has been made.”


If he’s elected, he said he would fight to make sure that “orphan sites receive top priority with the government budget. I would work on this problem. I’m a problem solver.”


Orphan sites are those in which the polluter is long gone. That’s unlike Dow Chemical, which has taken responsibility for the dioxin cleanup in the Tittabawassee River, Moolenaar said.


He made the trip to St. Louis to listen to the concerns of the people, he said. It has, after all, been more three decades since the PBB disaster, which was the largest contamination to the food chain in history.


Emmons said she learned that the planned plant site clean up, “is such a priority of the “Environmental Protection Agency. It’s the biggest one in the five state region.”


She said she was encouraged by the new technology that wasn’t available when the PBB disaster occurred.


However, she said she expects the clean up to continue “for the rest of our lifetime.”


Emmons also pointed to the importance “of keeping accurate records for those that come after us.”


For his part, Outman noted how long the clean up has been going on - including the river clean up that took place earlier this century - and how many more decades it will likely take before most of the pollution is removed or changed by the heat treatment. Some - water treatment- may last in perpetuity, former Pine River Task Force Chair Jane Keon said.


Then, the group moved on to the Alma water plant, now undergoing an expansion and remodeling.


When pCBSA, a by-product of DDT was found in the St. Louis water, the city was told to find a new water source. Although the water is safe to drink now, it likely won’t be in the future when even more contamination finds its way to the aquifer.


So the city joined with Alma in creating the Gratiot Area Water Authority, which allows St. Louis to get its water from the plant in Alma.


“This became the best option,” said Mark Joseph, district engineer for the DEQ, when he presented a short history to the group.


Not only will St. Louis get clean water, “it will remove the stigma that St. Louis has,” he said.


Alma now gets 75 percent of its water from wells and 25 percent from the river. Once the expansion is complete - the plant is moving from a 4 million gallon facility to 6 million - Alma plans to get 85 percent of its water from wells and only 15 percent from the river.


Alma City Manager Phil Moore said that Alma and St. Louis have had a long history of collaboration which made the water authority an easy one to complete.


“I’m always asked (by Alma residents) what’s in it for us?” he told the group. “We get a better water plant. We would have to fix it in the future.”


The transmission lines being built from Alma to St. Louis opens up properties that have had no access before, he said, adding that the transmission lines on Center St. would not normally have received a 16 inch main, but because of the water authority, it does now, making it much better for the residents.


Moore was asked about the water quality of the river and said it was a “major concern” and pointed to a recent Alma College study that outlined how the river had deteriorated significantly in the last several years.


Residents in St. Louis will receive water from the Alma plant “about a year from now,” Moore said.


But the total project would likely not be completed until 2017, said St. Louis City Manager Bob McConkie.


The approximate $38 million project is paid in part from a St. Louis suit against owners of a Velsicol trust fund and the rest by the EPA and the DEQ.