NewsNational News


Former radioactive site collapses into Detroit River, raising drinking water safety concerns

Posted at 6:23 PM, Dec 06, 2019

A site on the Detroit River that was used to produce radioactive materials during World War II collapsed last week, raising concerns about whether the adjacent water supply is safe to drink.

While officials in the United States say the water is free of radioactivity, the city of Windsor on the Canadian side is raising concerns.

Canadian member of Parliament Brian Masse released a statement Thursday from his office, which alleged that, "on November 27, 2019, the Revere Copper Site on the American side of the Detroit River collapsed most likely due to the weight of the aggregate stored by Detroit Bulk Storage on site."

Masse later provided a letter to Canada's House of Commons further expressing his concerns and calling for both the US and Canadian governments to work together to assess any possible threat.

"Forty million people use the Great Lakes for drinking water, and the ecosystem is already fragile," Masse said. "Any potential threat should be investigated immediately on both sides of the border."

Attempts to reach Masse Friday were not successful.

The Great Lakes Water Authority, which is responsible for the welfare of drinking water for residents in the southeast Michigan-area, said in a statement that its water is safe to drink.

"Because [the intake location] is upstream of the site, there is no danger of any potential water quality issues from the collapse," GLWA spokesperson Ashleigh Chatel told CNN via email.

While the exact cause of the collapse has not yet been determined, Nick Assendelft, the public information officer for the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy, said Friday that EGLE had dispatched 20 officials to the site, which is about four miles south of downtown Detroit. EGLE inspected the site in the spring and found no radioactive threat, Assendelft said.

"We certainly want to do robust investigation to get all the answers and information so we can determine possible next steps," Assendelft said.

American authorities agree water is safe, but 2011 survey acknowledges contamination potential

The property is owned by Grand Rapids-based Erickson Group, which has been leasing the site to Detroit Bulk Storage since July 2019.

The storage company, its owner, Noel Frye, and The Erickson Group did not return requests for comment.

The EGLE posted on Twitter that it was actively investigating the site Friday by taking radioactivity measurements and footage of the area. Assendelft added EGLE is also using boats to test water samples for radioactivity.

John Roach, a spokesman for the city of Detroit, told CNN that EGLE is directly handling the situation because the state is responsible for the property's environmental welfare.

But in an emailed statement, city government echoed EGLE's sentiments and said "EGLE informs us that there is no reason for health or environmental concern among Detroit residents at this time."

The EPA confirmed its involved in the investigation. It conducted its own radiation surveys in 1981 and 1989 but found no abnormal radioactivity, the agency said in a statement to CNN. While the EPA did not mention any more recent surveys, it cited EGLE's survey earlier this year.

However, a 2011 survey conducted by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health determined that "there is a potential for significant residual contamination outside of the period in which weapons-related production occurred."

While EGLE could not provide a timetable to determine exactly when water safety levels would be concluded, Assendelft said the investigation would be "aggressive."

"We know we're the source of all water resources in the state of Michigan, so we all value this issue and want to take care of it," he said.