A surprise development at this week’s Saline City Council Meeting was an appearance by Mike Stoelton, Director of Environmental Affairs for Johnson Controls. He came on his own initiative to tell council and the citizens of Saline that he had decided to accelerate cleanup plans at the 232 Monroe Street.
The site had been used as a manufacturing facility for more than 100 years, much of the time as Hoover Universal (Universal Die Casting Group). After being purchased by Johnson Controls, the factory became Hoover Group and went bankrupt in a few years.
Subsequently, the site was abandoned except for an unsuccessful effort by Saline River Properties to build condominiums there.
“In 2003 Johnson Controls was determined to be responsible because it was the successor to Hoover Universal,” Stoelton explained. “We were the last company standing.”
The site was left with surface debris, construction debris, old foundations and other building materials. Between July and October of last year, Johnson Controls removed 35 million pounds of solid debris from the site as well as over 22,000 gallons of liquid waste.
At a November 2015 City Council meeting, Stoelton described the cleanup that had taken place and said that Johnson Controls would be submitting a plan for further remediation to the EPA for approval. This approval would take one to two years.
Now that the plan has changed.
“I’m going to tell you what changed,” Stoelton said. “I went home and thought about it.”
He said that his thinking changed in part because of comments made at the November meeting by councilperson Linda TerHaar. She had noted that neighbors were suffering from unpleasant odors in the area.
“I don’t want the citizens of Saline to have to deal with the odors for the next one to two years before we can remediate,” Stoelton said.
He said that under an AOC (Administrative Order of Consent) with the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) Johnson Controls could proceed with remediation without prior approval. The risk to Johnson is that EPA retains the authority to review the cleanup and tell them to do more or do it differently.
Stoelton emphasized that this decision was his own, not one that came down from higher management.
Last summer’s surface work was only the first step in the remediation of the site. The next stage could begin within three months.
The first priority will be to address the VOC (volatile organic compound) contamination that is causing the unpleasant smells. Next, contamination by metals will be addressed. The company will begin ground water monitoring and by the summer of 2017 should begin river sediment remediation.
Following all this work, the company will sample soil, water and sediments to confirm they are safe, continue to monitor ground water and seek permission for site closure from the EPA. The site could then be developed in some yet to be decided way, but not for residential use.
According to Dell Deaton of Saline who worked at the plant in the 1980s, soils may have been contaminated by leakage from two large fuel tanks. In addition, the company did nickel and chrome plating operations and discharge from these procedures was apparently stored in open ponds.
Chromium pollution, specifically hexavalent chromium, was the contaminant found in the drinking water of Hinkley, California in the “Erin Brockovich” story. It has since been found at elevated levels in many other parts of the United States, even Ann Arbor.
Water Production and Wastewater Treatment Superintendent Bob Scull said that wells serving the city of Saline are upstream from the Hoover Universal site, that is, the aquifer flows south. Consequently, city water should not be affected.
Council members were very appreciative of the initiative taken by Stoelton.
“I just want to say thank you for listening to the concerns of the community,” councilman Jack Ceo said.
Stoelton also wanted to reassure community members that even though Johnson Controls is going through a complicated merger and spin off, this should not affect their plans for the Saline site. He said that it will remain under his supervision.