Washington, DC - Michigan's Ingham County Health Department suppressed a research report showing growing threats to the region's drinking water and serious pollution hazards in local lakes and streams, according to documents published today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
The censored report, titled The Story of Water Resources at Work, details an array of dangers facing Ingham County's surface and groundwaters. Fearful of reaction to the 130-page research report, the county instead published a 25-page glossy brochure last December.
The official brochure included only a small number of the study's findings and glossed over many of the most significant health risks identified. For example, the report cites looming dangers to the region's aquifer, while the brochure blithely assures residents they have "one of the most abundant and safest groundwater sources of drinking water supplies in all Michigan." Other omissions include:
- Contaminated Wells An estimated 41% of Ingham County wells are contaminated with dangerous levels of coliform bacteria. Other wells tested high for arsenic, boron, barium and antimony and nickel.
- Leaking Storage Tanks The county's worst leaking underground storage tank site, a huge toxic plume under a General Motors plant, is considered "an immediate threat to health, safety and the environment."
- Crego Park One third of this former recreation area is contaminated with PCB's, lead, zinc and gasoline chemicals.
Ironically, the county's environmental health assessment was to be part of an ongoing "data democratization" program to keep citizens aware of health risks and make citizens equal partners in improving environmental health.
"This exercise in 'data democratization' turned into the exact opposite," commented Eric Wingerter, PEER's national field director. PEER is publishing the censored report with cooperation from current and former county employees and making it available on the web as well as area libraries. "It is essential that people in the Lansing area know what their government's research is revealing about the health effects of pollution."
See the report on PEER's website. NOTE: This file may take a long time to open (about 5 minutes depending on your web connection), due to its size.
A two-fact sheet detailing the differences between the official brochure and the more complete report released today follows.
The Story of Water Resources At Work
In 2000, the Ingham County Health Department commissioned a study of water quality in the region. The project was to be comprehensive in scope. A team of professionals put together a 130 page report that addressed a wide range of threats to surface and ground water in Ingham County. Unfortunately, a number of local politicians balked at the idea of making some of this information public. Instead, they published a glossy, 25 page pamphlet outlining some points of the County-commissioned study, excluding the bulk of the research. In September 2001, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility published the original report in its entirety. The following important facts are a sampling of the information that was omitted from the "official" report published by the County.
THREATS TO DRINKING WATER
- Contaminated Wells An estimated 41% of Ingham County wells have inordinately high levels of coliform bacteria. If the EPA lowers its arsenic standard to 5 parts per billion, a proposal it put forward in 1999, then 10% of wells will exceed the new standard. Other wells tested high for barium, antimony, nickel, and boron.
- General Motors The county's worst leaking underground storage tank (LUST) plume is located at the GM plant at 920 Townsend St. in Lansing. GM has had more toxic underground LUST releases - fourteen - than any other local corporation. The result? One of the largest underground plumes in Ingham County. According to the DEQ, it is "an immediate threat to health, safety or the environment."
- Abandoned Wells The county has about 30,000 abandoned wells. When they are uncapped, they are a direct portal for contaminants to enter the aquifer. The county has sealed less than 1 percent of abandoned wells. In 1953 a fuel oil truck operator mistakenly pumped 900 gallons of heating oil down an abandoned well in Holt. This site was once classified as a major contamination zone, but has since been "delisted" by the state, meaning that no efforts were ever made to address this pollution.
- Boron Children consuming well water in Williamston should limit their consumption due to the possible health effects of the element boron, which is present in high amounts there. A water specialist recommended that the Health Department conduct a health survey of the area to learn more about the dangers of boron, but this has never occurred.
- Aurelius Road Landfill This landfill was built in the mid 1960's on top of a vulnerable stretch of earth that could not protect the aquifer from pollutants. It was closed in the 1970's but never cleaned up. A contamination plume threatens city wells.
- Americhem oil and chemical storage facility in Mason The facility was built atop the Mason Esker, a conduit to the water. Today contamination plumes of gasoline and diesel fuel sit six feet thick in the water table. 3 of Mason's 5 wells have been closed.
- Crego Park One third of Crego Park is contaminated with PCBs, lead, zinc and gasoline chemicals left over from when the park was a chemical testing site. It took 13 years for the city to learn about 200 drums of contamination, discovered by a woman walking her dog through the park in 1986.
- Gunn Road Dump 34 wells located near this abandoned dump were found to be contaminated with sulfate, chloride, and in one case, arsenic. In 1998 vinyl chloride was detected in 4 wells, but the water department is still considering placing a city well there.
- Motor Wheel Dangers The Motor Wheel waste disposal site is leaking extremely high levels of ammonia and the carcinogen vinyl chloride into the aquifer. Legal battles continue to stall the cleanup, and the Michigan Department of Community Health has not studied the health effects as they promised to do in the early 1990's.
THREATS TO SURFACE WATER
- Expanding River The Grand River has grown by 25% in 65 years. Some scientists fear that this is the result of deforestation, sprawl, and wetland loss. This phenomenon could increase flooding dangers.
- Fish Kills Sewage overflows and dumping have contributed to massive fish kills on the Grand River. Dams prevent salmon from spawning upstream.
- Wetland Loss New subdivisions and development have contributed to wetland loss. Ingham County has lost nearly 90% of it's wetlands, compared to the state average of 50%. 17 species are endangered including goldenseal, ginseng, and the spotted turtle.
- Pesticide Danger According to the EPA, Farm runoff of pesticides and fertilizers have "seriously impaired" the Grand River. Ciba Geigy, a national corporation with an East Lansing plant, strongly lobbied the EPA not to ban Atrazine, a weed killer banned across much of Europe. Atrazine is the county's number 1 restricted use pesticide.
- Sewage Sludge Nearly 4,000 tons of human sewage sludge were spread across county farms as fertilizer in 1999. Health professionals are divided over the potential harm to humans.
- Lake Lansing Pollution 90% of the lake's water comes from Storm Water runoff, making it particularly susceptible to shoreline pollution.
- Industrial Conservation Needed The Board of Water and light extracted 63.3 billion gallons of water from the Grand River to cool electrical equipment in 1999.
- Mercury Pollution Lansing's hospitals are significant mercury emitters, through medical waste incineration or simply by dumping mercury down the drain. In 1999 there were three chronic violators of sewage discharge limits: Litho-Color Services (for silver), Ingham Regional Medical Center (for mercury) and Sparrow Hospital (for mercury).