Jessica Mathews /

State and local officials say area residents should avoid contact with a portion of the Huron River following a chemical spill in Wixom.

The Michigan Departments of Health and Human Services and Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy and local officials say they’re working together to protect residents in Livingston, Washtenaw, Monroe, Oakland and Wayne counties following a release of hexavalent chromium to the Wixom Sewage Treatment Facility from Tribar Manufacturing in Wixom. The sewer feeds the Wixom wastewater treatment plant, which discharges to the Huron River system.

Hexavalent chromium is a known carcinogen that can cause a number of adverse health effects through ingestion, skin contact or inhalation.

The state is recommending until further notice that all people and pets avoid contact with the Huron River water between North Wixom Road in Oakland County and Kensington Road in Livingston County. That includes Norton Creek downstream of the Wixom Wastewater Treatment Plant in Oakland County, Hubbell Pond, also known as the Mill Pond in Oakland County, and Kent Lake in Oakland and Livingston Counties.

MDHHS Environmental Public Health Director Kory Groetsch told WHMI sampling work was being done Tuesday and then it’s just a matter of how quickly the labs can process and accurately analyze the results and get them back. He noted it’s delicate work and chemistry work so it can take several days, maybe up to a week, but he expects they’re going as fast as possible.

EGLE Director Liesl Clark said “This is a significant release into a large, much-loved waterway. 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”.

EGLE was notified at 3:21pm Monday by Tribar that it had released several thousand gallons of a liquid containing 5% hexavalent chromium into the 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.

EGLE is taking river water samples from multiple areas downstream from the treatment plant today and is working with local and state health officials to assess the extent of the contamination. Testing is also taking place within the Tribar facility and the Wixom wastewater treatment plant. Monitoring will continue in coming days and weeks.

Officials stressed there is no immediate threat to drinking water. The closest drinking water intake is in Ann Arbor. Time-of-travel modeling indicates it would take the contaminant several weeks or more to make its way to the city’s water intakes. The city has been notified of the release and is also taking steps to monitor incoming water.

The Village of Milford says the identified area includes the entire stretch of the Huron River through Milford. However, officials stress that the Village does not get drinking water from the river.
Of note is that Tribar Manufacturing was identified as the source of PFAS contamination to the river system in recent years, installing additional filtration to help address that problem.

State regulators say they’ll investigate the circumstances of the weekend release at the facility, but stressed that the immediate concern is ensuring the protection of the environment and public health.

The state advises that people do not swim in, wade in, play in or drink water directly from the specified section of the Huron River. People should also not water their plants or lawn with Huron River water. Finally, the state says people should not eat fish caught in that section of the Huron River. The state reminds that a “do not eat advisory” for PFOS is already in effect.

MDHHS Director Elizabeth Hertel says the recommendation is being made to help protect the health and safety of families who live, work and play in the Huron River in the affected area. She says as they gather additional information through sampling, the recommendation may change or be expanded.