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Great Lakes Article:

Grants to help hunt down polluters
County seeks illegal Warren, Center Line sewer connections
By Gene Schabath
The Detroit News

WARREN - Efforts by health officials to track the source of bacteria pollution that has plagued Bear Creek and Red Run Drain will soon turn to about 1,000 businesses in Warren and Center Line that are near the two sites.

The Macomb County Health Department will use a $438,000 grant from the Clean Michigan Initiative fund to conduct dye tests in sewer lines to identify illegal connections polluting the water. The county will add $90,000 to pay for professionals to do the work.

A second grant of $484,000 will be used to seek illegal connections that are polluting the streams, drains and rivers of the Clinton River in Shelby Township, Sterling Heights and Washington Township. The county will contribute $121,000 to pay for personnel.

Under a similar program conducted in the past two years in the county, officials checked 1,900 pipes leading into drains and steams and found 170 discharging water with bacteria levels that were unsafe for people, said Elwin Coll, supervisor of the Macomb County Health Departmentís Environmental Health Division.

Businesses are being targeted because the city has successfully located 55 illegal polluters in the past three years, said Ted Lanway, industrial waste specialist for the city of Warren.

The problem dates back 50 years, said Thomas Kalkofen, director of the health department.

"Warren has some old commercial buildings, and with the extensive amount of sewer separation work they did in the city (in the 1950s), connections were accidentally made (in commercial buildings) from sanitary sewers to storm sewers," Kalkofen said.

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality compels cities like Warren to track down illegal connections as a requirement under the stateís storm permit regulations.

Illegal connections are sewer lines that are supposed to be hooked to sanitary pipes but instead are linked to storm drains.

Because of illegal connections, sewage ends up in Bear Creek and the Red Run Drain. Not only does it pose a health hazard for kids who sometimes play in these waters, but the pollution ends up in the Clinton River and Lake St. Clair.

John Barnett, who lives within 300 yards of Bear Creek near Van Dyke and Chicago Road, welcomes the crackdown.

"I think itís a great idea - anything to get things cleaned up," he said.

Bacteria counts in the two waterways are often 1,000 times above the levels considered safe for people, said Doug Martz, chairman of the Macomb Water Quality Board.

Of the 55 illegal connections found in the past few years, some were in floor drains and others were in restrooms, Lanway said.

City and health department workers find the connections by lifting manhole covers and taking water samples from the sewer, Lanway said.

"Sometimes itís visible - we look in the sewer and see evidence of sanitary sewers (such as toilet paper)," he said.

If the water samples come back with readings of high bacteria, the professionals doing the tests will trace the storm drain to its origin, taking more samples as they go along, Lanway said.

Once they locate the connection, then a dye test is done.

The dye is put into floor drains or toilets, and if it shows up in the storm drain, the workers know they have found an illegal connection.

Businesses that pass the dye test will be given decals saying so to place in their windows, said Steve Lichota, director of the county health departmentís environmental division. Businesses will not be fined unless the illegal connection was intentional.

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