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Detroit Residents Are Fearful After Interstate 696 Closes Down Due To Cancer-Causing Chemical Leak

By Rachel George

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Federal officials were recently called in to investigate a mysterious liquid found oozing onto a highway in Detroit. Officials have declared the liquid cancerous and harmful to the residents of the Madison Heights suburb.

Many are wondering exactly how and why this chemical spill took place, despite a similar $1.5 million emergency chemical clean up two years ago.

On Dec. 21st, the Detroit Free Press reported that a greenish-yellow liquid burst onto Interstate 696 eastbound & posed an “imminent threat” to the health and safety of the community. The liquid came from beneath an old metal factory engrained in the soil and groundwater and was deemed too hazardous even for human contact. 

Hexavalent chromium was discovered leaking from the basement of an old firm & eventually spread through a drain and onto the highway, according to Michigan State Police’s Twitter. This same highly-toxic chemical, also known as chromium-6, inspired the Erin Brockovich film about a California activist who sued a utility company over a chemical leaking into the water system. 

In a news release, investigators also discovered high levels of contaminants in the groundwater and other harmful chemicals including trichloroethylene (TCE) and cyanide, which can be severely damaging to the lungs.

Michigan police also tweeted that the chemical froze into a yellow blob after coming through the drains. “The plan to dispose of the chemical is to bring in a type of excavator, scoop up the frozen waste, and place it into a safe container,” the tweet said.

A spokeswoman for the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy, asserts that although the basement of the facility is still a work in progress, the sewers and drains have been cleaned. Next week, Environmental Protection Agency investigators will begin testing dozens of samples of contaminated soil.

Meanwhile, officials are urging people to stay far from the building while the site goes through a variety of cleanups over the next few days/weeks – which include monitoring the air quality in the building and vacuuming nearby storm sewers. 

The state of Michigan shut down the firm three years ago, citing illegally stored, dangerous chemicals in leaky containers. The owner was sentenced to 12 months in federal prison and ordered to pay the $1.5 million to the EPA. 

With the current rainy forecast, experts in the Detroit area are worried that groundwater can make cleanup more difficult. Rainwater can lead to spreading the chemicals onto the roads.

According to ABC Detroit, the rain will also wash any chemicals from streets into storm sewers. The U.S. EPA emergency response team is working with Michigan’s EGLE around the clock to prevent that from happening, despite heavy rainfall.

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