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Michigan plant ignored alarm hundreds of times before chemical discharge in river

An operator ignored and then overrode an alarm more than 450 times ahead of a toxic chemical spill into Michigan’s Huron River last month, documents filed by state regulators now show. Image by Tim Kiser/Wikimedia
An operator ignored and then overrode an alarm more than 450 times ahead of a toxic chemical spill into Michigan’s Huron River last month, documents filed by state regulators now show. Image by Tim Kiser/Wikimedia

Aug. 10 (UPI) -- An operator ignored and then overrode an alarm more than 450 times ahead of a large toxic chemical spill into Michigan's Huron River last month, documents filed by state regulators now show.

Tribar Manufacturing released approximately 10,000 gallons of material containing approximately 5% hexavalent chromium into the wastewater treatment system of the city of Wixom, Mich., on July 29.

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The automotive supplier's tank contained a chrome plating solution, which contains the potentially cancer-causing hexavalent chromium. Extensive exposure to the compound can cause "irritation or damage to the eyes and skin if hexavalent chromium contacts these organs in high concentrations," according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Tribar manufacturers chrome-finished car parts.

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"Please explain how the operator overrode the waste treatment alarms 460 times between the programmable logic controller time stamp of 4:59 p.m. to 7:46 p.m.," reads a violation notice issued Tuesday by the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy.

"Please explain what happens when an alarm is overridden in relation to the on-site waste treatment system starting from Tank A through the GAC treatment system."

"Due to the seriousness of the violations, EGLE has initiated accelerated enforcement, which will initiate an administrative consent order process and seek full cost recovery from Tribar," the department said on Twitter Wednesday.

The notice was the second violation note issued since the incident.

The company did not report the release until Aug. 1 and the state says Tribar has not been fully cooperative in the investigation.

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The state agency has so far cited the company for failing to immediately notify the regulator after discovering the discharge as required under the law, sending an unauthorized discharge of pollutants to the wastewater treatment facility and failing to maintain a properly updated Pollution Incident Prevention Plan.

The department's Air Quality Division also filed violations for metal treatment tanks not being properly controlled, which may have allowed unauthorized emissions of nickel and total chrome, and failure to keep proper records that would document compliance with air permit conditions for various processes.

The department found "no detectable presence" of hexavalent chromium in nine surface water samples taken from the river on Aug. 3.

A no-contact order remains in place along the river and within the Wixom wastewater treatment facility.

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State authorities are also expanding their environmental monitoring by testing sewage material from within the facility, as well as 29 other sites.

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