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EGLE: Tribar alarm system overridden 460 times on night of Huron River chemical release

Posted at 5:34 PM, Aug 10, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-11 05:19:04-04

MILFORD, Mich. (WXYZ) — There were major calls for accountability from Tribar Technologies Wednesday as The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy announced violation notices against the company, while a rally was being held in Milford.

EGLE said they issued multiple violation notices against the auto-parts company seeking full cost recovery for their 10,000 gallons spill of liquid containing hexavalent chromium into the Huron River.

Violations issued against the company revealed an operator at the plant in Wixom overrode an alarm 460 times on July 29, the night the state believes the spill happened.

Tribar told 7 Action News that employee resigned after being questioned by human resources before his shift started Monday.

The other violations are quoted below:

  • Failing to immediately notify EGLE immediately after discovering the discharge as required under the law and their industrial user discharge permit.
  • Sending an unauthorized discharge of pollutants to the wastewater treatment facility that resulted in interference to the treatment process, violating pretreatment rules in the Michigan Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act (NREPA).
  • Failure to maintain a properly updated Pollution Incident Prevention Plan (PIPP) and failing to certify compliance with NREPA rules regarding spillage of oil and polluting materials.

EGLE said Tribar has until Aug. 20 to respond in writing to the violations and answer how the chemical spill happened, when, and what led up to the release. Specific to the alarm overrides, EGLE is asking the company:

  • How the operator overrode the alarm 460 times between 4:59 p.m. and 7:46 p.m. on July 29
  • What happens to the on-site waste treatment system when the alarm is overridden from Tank A through the GAC treatment system
  • Specific actions that will be taken to make sure alarms are communicated up the chain of command at Tribar when they are ignored or overridden

So far, extensive testing in the Huron River watershed has not shown any dangerous levels escaped into the environment.

While these charges were being announced, chants of "shut them down" rang though the air in Milford at a rally to demand polluters pay.

The rally started at noon at Heavner Canoe Rental.

House Democratic Floor Leader, Yousef Rabhi was among the speakers, he's been working on House Bill 4314 for three years to get polluter pay laws in Michigan.

"We used to have polluter pay as the law of the land here in Michigan," said Rabhi. "John Engler, under his administration, eliminated polluter pay and ever since then we have lived in a state where polluters are not being held accountable."

An attendee at the rally named Cecilia put it simply where her sign reading, "If you dump toxins down the river, you do time up the river."

"We need to clean up our own messes, that’s what I teach my child," said Cecilia.

Tribar released a statement on the spill Wednesday, stating the following:

Tribar has invested millions of dollars in sophisticated environmental controls to prevent an accidental release of wastewater prior to treatment at our facility. Based on an initial investigation, those automated controls were all functioning properly at the time the plating solution was released to the wastewater treatment plant. However, the controls were repeatedly overridden by the operator on duty while the facility was shut down for the weekend. That individual is no longer employed by our company, and we are in the process of further improving our internal controls to prevent a future occurrence.

However, people at the rally like Sean McBrearty, Policy Director for Clean Water Action, still believe; "It’s absolutely unacceptable for a company to be polluting our natural resources. We need mechanisms that will hold companies like this accountable."

Tribar told 7 Action News they will be releasing more results from their own internal investigation on the spill Thursday.