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Great Lakes Article:

Mich. facilities violate Clean Water Act, study says
But officials at plants call report misleading
Maryanne George
Detroit Free Press
Posted 10/23/2002

Three out of four industrial and municipal facilities across Michigan exceeded federal pollution standards between 1999 and 2001, including 35 percent of facilities that released hazardous chemicals such as mercury and cyanide, according to a new report released Thursday by Public Interest Research Group In Michigan (PIRGIM).

Twelve facilities in Michigan exceeded their Clean Water Act permit levels for highly hazardous chemicals by at least ten times the legal limit, the report says.

The report, "In Gross Violation: How Polluters are Flooding America's Waterways with Toxic Chemicals," was prepared by the group and released to coincide with the 30th anniversary of the Clean Water Act, today.

Analyzing data from the Environmental Protection Agency, obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, PIRGIM found that Michigan ranks 12th-worst in the country with 35 percent of facilities exceeding their permits for highly hazardous chemicals.

The state ranks fifth-worst with Michigan facilities exceeding their Clean Water Act permits for highly hazardous chemicals by 2,258 percent -- 20 times the legal limit -- according to the report.

The report expressed the violation in percentages over allowable limits.

Officials in cities with some of the worst pollution said the data is misleading.

In Alpena, where the PIRGIM report listed mercury in waste water at more than 76,000 percent above federal limits, Michael Glowinski utilities manager for the waste water treatment plant, said the report was ridiculous.

"We have been in compliance with our permit for 27 months," Glowinski said. "Our limitation for mercury is less that what is contributed by rainwater. In the last 10 years we have had two violations of our treatment permit."

At the Oakland County waste water plant in Novi mercury discharges were listed at more than 17,000 percent over permitted limits.

But Jim Wineka, operations manager for the Oakland County Drain Commissioner's Office, said the data represents only one test.

"Our allowable levels of mercury are 0.20 micrograms per liter and we had a test with 0.25 micrograms of mercury on Jan. 11, 2001," Wineka said. "That's one non-compliance in many, many years. It could have been a problem with the laboratory."

In St. Clair, where mercury was listed at 92,208 percent over allowable limits, Bill Darmstaetter, superintendent for the wastewater treatment plant, said the source of mercury pollution was a dentist's office, which has installed filters to absorb the mercury.

"The data is inaccurate and misleading," Darmstaetter said. "If we had that many violations I'd be out of a job."

PIRGIM spokeswoman Megan Owens defended the data.

"We work to supply the data with as much care as possible," Owens said. "We encourage the EPA and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to put this on their Web sites."

The report is available at www.pirgim.org

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