By SUE SUCHYTA
Sunday Times Newspapers
MELVINDALE – For a city in the shadow of a chemical refinery, when white and brown foam spills out of a manhole cover, it’s time to close the road and start sampling.
In two recent environmental incidents, on July 21 and 31, similar substances seeped from a manhole cover and spilled down the embankment, onto the sidewalk and road, forcing a partial closure of Schaefer Highway.
Police Sgt. Ellis Slaughter observed at 6:15 p.m. July 31 that foam was spilling down the embankment and onto the sidewalk and Schaefer Highway, covering the southbound lanes and part of the turn lane for about 50 feet.
Sgt. Matthew Furman and Officer John Ginther went to the location to help Slaughter shut down the southbound lanes of Schaefer. Eventually the road was shut down in both directions from Hess Street to I-75.
Maintenance Engineer Richard Hodges from the Wayne County Road Commission arrived on site, said he was unfamiliar with the residue and made arrangements for a cleanup crew to report to the location. Personnel from the WCRC then arrived to assist with traffic control.
Furman contacted the Environmental Protection Agency National Response Center, as well as the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, who alerted the MDEQ Water Resource Division.
Marathon Refinery Supervisor Mike Kane went to the site and said he had never seen a similar substance, and said that Marathon’s operations had nothing that would cause a foam-like substance to form. He also said no Marathon firefighting training using foam had been performed recently in the vicinity.
Furman also contacted Melinda Steffler, district supervisor of the MDEQ Water Resources Division, and sent photos to her as well.
A Dearborn fire official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said he didn’t want to speculate about the substance, and while no foam was used on the Oakwood Food Center fire, temperatures were hot enough inside the building to melt plastic containers containing detergent, which could have allowed detergent to spill out of the containers and potentially wash into the storm sewers.
Dearborn Deputy Fire Chief Steve Densmore and Battalion Chief Dave Lambrix were at the July 31 scene.
Furman then contacted Melvindale Police Chief John Allen, who contacted Mayor Stacy Bazman, who authorized a chemical test of the foam.
Densmore contacted the Wayne County Hazmat Unit, which headed to the location. Ten minutes prior to the unit’s arrival, a heavy rain began to wash away the current residue, but the rain also cause more foam to gush out of the manhole cover and onto the road, from which samples were drawn.
Following the rainfall, the site was cleared, and traffic was allowed to re-enter the road.
(Sue Suchyta can be reached at [email protected].)