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First day of trial: regulators paint grim picture of conditions at Electro-Plating Services

City of Madison Heights

Environmental regulators painted a grim picture of conditions inside Electro-Plating Services on the first day of a trial on Monday. 

The City of Madison Heights is suing the owner, Gary Sayers, to force him to pay to demolish his own factory.  

When the EPA's Jeffrey Lippert first went inside Electro-Plating Services in early 2017, he said he was stunned. He called the conditions "awful." 

Read more: State official: contaminants still migrating off Electro-Plating Services property

Lippert described seeing thousands of leaking, rusty containers of toxic liquids, many open to the air and unlabeled. Acid had eaten away an I-beam. Part of the floor on the third level was missing and rain poured through holes in the roof. 

An unlined earthen pit dug into the ground in the basement was filled with green liquid contaminated with hexavalent chromium, a known carcinogen.

"I mean, this, this, it was the worst I've ever seen," he testified.

Electro-Plating Services owner Gary Sayers is not attending the trial nor is he expected to testify. He is currently serving a nearly one-year prison sentence for multiple violations of state and federal laws for disposal of hazardous materials.

A state environmental regulator also testified. Tracy Kecszemeti is district supervisor of materials for the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy. 

She said it will be impossible to further clean up the site, including the highly polluted soils, unless the building is demolished. 

That's because high levels of contamination still remain inside the building as well as underneath it.

Sayers' attorney, James Sullivan, questioned the necessity of tearing down the building.

He asked witnesses whether there really was an emergency, when there was such a long delay between the state's cease and desist order to Sayers, in December of 2016, and actually beginning work in April 2017 to remove the containers and pump out the earthen pit in the basement.

Sullivan also appeared to be setting up an argument that the state is responsible for what happened. He asked witnesses to explain why the U.S. EPA ended its work in 2017, even though investigators testified that they knew the earthen pit in the basement was prone to recharging with groundwater over time.

Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Radio. She began her career at Michigan Radio as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.
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