Attorney for Shelby Township accuses Ford of trying to hide information on contamination from public

DETROIT (WXYZ) - The 7 Action News Investigators are exposing a battle brewing over a toxic chemical problem in Macomb County involving an abandoned Ford Plant.

The contamination in Shelby Township is much bigger than first thought and now township lawyers are accusing Ford of trying to hide information from the public.

Ford confirms that they will ask a judge on Monday morning to issue a protective order in the case but they say the intent is not to hide information from the public.

Township officials aren't convinced and they want to make sure everything on this case is done out in the open.

"We say we are not going to agree to have records sealed in this case.  We are not going to be bullied by Ford or how many law firms they retain. There's some from Detroit and now Chicago trying to keep things from the public and we will not be pushed into that position," said Rob Huth an attorney representing Shelby Township.

So what is all the fuss is about?  It centers around the old Ford Visteon Parts plant at 23 mile road and Mound Road that is now being demolished. Ford sold it to a Chicago Company called Indiana Metals.  That firm is tearing down the plant to clear the land for re-development.

Ford has known for a long time that there is contamination on the plant site and they have agreed to clean it up.

What was not known until recently is that contamination, believed to be from the old Ford plant, has spread into a huge patch of land to the east that Ford sold to a developer called Grand Sakwa.

"We've got possibly 75 million gallons of contaminated ground water that we know of. And to clean up what's already out there could cost in the neighborhood of 57 million dollars," Jim Dragun, Ph.D. told the 7 Action News Investigators.

Dragun is a nationally recognized environmental scientist who's written several books on soil and water contamination. He was hired by Shelby Township to investigate the contamination.

"Are we looking at a public health issue here?" asked 7 Action News Investigator Scott Lewis.

"Very possibly so," Dragun replied.

Dragun said he found two underground areas known as plumes that are contaminated by chemicals commonly used to degrease auto parts on the land adjacent to the old Ford plant.  That land is now owned by Grand Sakwa. 

Dragun said one contaminated area is about a thousand feet wide and goes back about two thirds of a mile.

"Groundwater that's contaminated with a chemical called TCE. And that's a known human carcinogen and it can cause cancer," Dragun said.

In another area of the Grand Sakwa property, Dragun said he found more ground water contaminated by another common auto parts degreaser called TCA.  Dragun said that chemical has the potential to cause liver and brain problems.

Dragun said he hasn't determined the exact size of the second plume yet. He said some of the chemical's he discovered are above levels considered safe for drinking water, but that's not what he sees as the most serious threat.

"They have a strong propensity to basically vaporize out of the water. And if they vaporize out of the water, they can migrate into people's basements," said Dragun. 

At this point there are not houses or other buildings on the area of the Grand Sakwa property where the contamination has been identified by Dragun.

A spokesperson for Ford said the company is "committed to doing what's right for the community and the environment".

And what about the protection order that Ford is seeking from a Macomb county judge that has Shelby Township officials fuming?

Ford told 7 Action News that the protective order they are seeking is not designed to keep the public in the dark. 

In a prepared statement, Ford said: "Requesting the court to enter a protective order is a common practice to facilitate information sharing among all parties; it is ultimately up to the court to determine what, if anything, is confidential.  Ford is committed to doing what is right for the community and the environment. If the company identifies an impact moving onto other properties, it will notify the state and the property owner and that information will be public."

A lawyer for Indiana Metals, the company that bought the Ford plant for demolition and redevelopment, said theye don't care either way about a protective order. The company just wants all of the parties involved to work together to clean up contamination.

"Indiana Metals position is: Let's figure out the extent of the contamination that was caused by Ford and what Ford needs to do to remediate," said company attorney Beth Gotthelf.

At the South end of the Grand Sakwa property a short distance from the area where Dragun found ground water contamination a subdivision of homes and condos has already been built, and some of the land is irrigated with ground water wells.

There's no indication that the underground pollution has reached this area, but Dragun said it needs more study to find out just how far the potentially dangerous chemicals might have spread.


president of the homeowners association said he is concerned by the large plume of contamination north of his subdivision and he wants everything on this case open to the public.

"We all ought to be able to share in what that plume may be doing or where it's headed, particularly if it's headed in our direction we'd like to know it," said Mike Grobbel, president of the Central Park Planned Unit Development.

The Ford plant demolition and related pollution issues are being hashed out in a tangled lawsuit involving Ford, Grand Sakwa Development, Indiana Metals and Shelby Township.

This latest controversial issue, Ford's request for a protective order, will be heard Monday morning by Macomb County Circuit Court Judge Richard Caretti.

7 Action News will be there and let you know what happens.

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