‘No contact’ with Huron River advised after toxic chemical release

WIXOM, MI — The state of Michigan is advising people to avoid contact with the Huron River downstream of Wixom after a chrome plating factory released a large quantity of hexavalent chromium into a sewer system that discharges to the river.

The state environmental and health departments issued a joint release about the chemical mishap on Tuesday afternoon, Aug. 2, indicating that the contaminants may have begun flowing into the city of Wixom wastewater system on Saturday.

The chemicals came from Tribar Manufacturing, an auto supplier chiefly responsible for the existing “Do Not Eat” fish advisory in the river due to PFAS chemicals.

Hexavalent chromium, or hexchrome, is a carcinogenic chemical used in plastic plating. It can cause a number of health problems through ingestion, skin contact or inhalation.

The river flows through multiple southeast Michigan communities before reaching Lake Erie, including Oakland, Livingston, Washtenaw, Wayne and Monroe counties.

The largest city on the river is Ann Arbor, which sources drinking water from the river. Computer modeling indicates the contaminants should not reach the city’s water intake for several weeks, according to state agencies.

Until further notice, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) says all people and pets should avoid contact with river water between North Wixom Road in Oakland County and Kensington Road in Livingston County.

The advisory includes Norton Creek downstream of the Wixom wastewater treatment plant, Hubbell Pond in Oakland County (also known as Mill Pond) and Kent Lake.

People should not swim in, wade in, play in, drink from, water plants with river water or eat fish from the river.

“This is a significant release into a large, much-loved waterway,” said Liesl Clark, director of the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE). “Our teams are in the field now assessing the situation. We will stay on the job as long as it takes to ensure residents are safe and impacts to the ecosystem are minimized.”

Exactly how the chemicals were released is unclear. According to a news statement, EGLE was notified at 3:21 pm on Monday, Aug. 1 by Tribar that it had released several thousand gallons of a liquid containing 5 percent hexavalent chromium into the Wixom sewer system.

“The company says it discovered the release Monday but indicated it may have started as early as Saturday morning, according to Wixom city officials. It is believed that much of the contaminant already made its way through the treatment plant by the time the release was discovered,” the EGLE release stated.

The state is taking river water samples from multiple areas downstream from the treatment plant. Testing is also taking place within the Tribar facility and the Wixom wastewater treatment plant. Monitoring will continue in coming days and weeks.

“We’re the middle of the response and investigation right now and looking at everything,” said EGLE spokesperson Jill Greenberg. “We’re gathering facts and trying to figure out exactly what happened.”

The Tribar release is not the first chemical spill into the river this year. In February, river access was shut down in the Wayne County town of Flat Rock after an oil sheen was discovered. That pollution was eventually traced back to a local steel processing factory.

Related stories:

Tribar release results in high PFAS levels in river

One year later, Huron River still weighed by PFAS crisis

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