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Electro-Plating Services building, source of "green ooze," is about to be demolished

pit filled with green liquid
One of the unlined pits that Electro-Plating Services used to store toxic chemicals

Corrected 4/25/2022

Demolition will soon begin of the Electro-Plating Services factory in Madison Heights.

The EPS facility generated national headlines in 2019, when a "green ooze" of toxic chemicals spilled off the site onto the side of a highway. That was after the business had been shuttered to allow for an EPA-ordered cleanup in 2016 and 2017.

EPS had a 29-year-long history of fines issued by state and federal regulators for storing toxic chemicals in open barrels and unlined pits, along with other safety and storage violations. The chemicals including cyanide, hexavalent chromium, trichloroethylene (TCE), and per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).

Owner Gary Sayers pleaded guilty to criminal charges of illegally storing hazardous materials and was sentenced to a year in prison in November, 2019. He served five months before he was released due to the COVID-19 pandemic, spending the rest of his sentence on home confinement.

Madison Heights Mayor Roslyn Grafstein said Sayers fought in civil court until the very end to try to stop the city from demolishing the building.

"This was a long time coming," she said. "There were so many opportunities for Mr. Sayers along the way to do the right thing to clean it up and to work with the city. He chose not to do that. It's just really sad."

But in a emailed statement, Sayers' attorney, James Sullivan, said the city was wrong to insist on demolition.

"Gary is disappointed that the building is being demolished. It is a structurally sound building. The environmental problems were supposed to have been rectified when the EPA left there in 2017. EPA said their project was successful. Gary has not introduced any hazardous material onto the premises since 2016 when the business was summarily shut down. The structure provides a cap over the surface which the DEQ claimed was necessary to stop any potential spread. Neither EGLE nor the City of Madison Heights has ever accepted any responsibility for its role in ignoring EPA test results which revealed hazardous materials on State and City owned property which ultimately made its way onto the freeway long after Gary was gone. If there is any future problem I am confident they will find a way to blame it on Gary."

Grafstein says she will be happy to see the building come down. She said over the years, even the walls had become contaminated with toxic chemicals.

"It will be nice to not have that visual reminder every time you come to the city and drive down 10 Mile," she said. "That's what I'm looking forward to right now. Eventually, I would like to see it completely remediated and to see a functional community-oriented business there."

Jill Greenberg is a spokesperson for the Michigan Department of Energy, Great Lakes, and Environment.

She said demolition of the EPS building will allow EGLE to assess the site and implement a plan to remediate the contamination, ultimately returning the property to safe and productive use.

Greenberg said the U.S. EPA transferred the site to EGLE last year, and the state agency will oversee the clean-up activities.

Correction: An earlier version of this story said demolition had already begun. EGLE says right now work is focusing on site assessment before demo can proceed.

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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