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Possibly dangerous air pollution from processing plant sparks concern in Howell

Posted at 5:00 PM, Nov 20, 2019
and last updated 2019-11-22 06:03:07-05

HOWELL, Mich. (WXYZ-TV) — The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) along with the Livingston County Health Department (LCHD) and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) is working to evaluate the health risks associated with a processing plant's release of a potentially hazardous chemical.

Diamond Chrome Plating, a processing plant on Michigan Avenue in Howell, uses Trichloroethylene or TCE in its manufacturing operations. TCE is a chemical commonly used to remove grease from metal parts.

“The issue at this point is that the TCE gas escaped from the plant and got into the neighboring residential area," said Matt Bowlang with the Livingston County Health Department.

Now, health officials are warning people who live near the plant of possible exposure, and what's being done to mitigate further risk.

“I was a little bit concerned, not overly concerned," said Paul Garrison, who lives a few blocks from the plant.

A public meeting on the issue is scheduled for Thursday from 7 to 9 p.m. at Parker Middle School located at 400 Wright Road.

Matt Bowman, who lives near the plant, is planning to be there.

"I’m going to bring up major concerns," Bowman said. "What’s the effects on a human with breathing problems? What are you guys going to do about it."

Health officials and representatives from the plant were in Lansing Wednesday discussing the issue.

Recent tests showed TCE in the air in the neighborhood near the plant, and also inside three homes.

“The data was concerning," Bowlang said. "It was above the health screening levels."

"EGLE’s Air Quality Division has issued two violation notices to Diamond Chrome since June 2019 regarding its degreaser and the use of TCE. EGLE’s investigation is ongoing and further enforcement actions have not yet been decided. If EGLE determines escalated enforcement against Diamond Chrome is warranted, fines and a legally binding order may be part of that negotiation," said EGLE spokesperson Nick Assendelft via email.

According to the Livingston County Health Department, dangers of TCE exposure vary depending on how much TCE someone breathes and for how long they're exposed.

  • Pregnant women are particularly at risk, as TCE exposure can cause heart defects in a developing fetus.
  • Breathing TCE for a long time may affect the immune system
  • Breathing TCE over a lifetime can increase the risk of developing kidney cancer
  • There is also some evidence that TCE might increase the risk of developing non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma or liver cancer.

Monday, the state ordered the plant to stop TCE emissions and also demonstrate how it's done so. Bowlang told 7 Action News the plant has been compliant.

Teresa Chalifour owns the Chocolate Boutique & Baker in Howell. While she doesn't live near the plant, news of possible TCE exposure concerns her.

"I’m here seven days a week all the time," Chalifour said. "And especially for the people in the area that live very close to them it’s very concerning."

So far, the plant has provided air purifiers to the three homes which had higher than acceptable levels of TCE indoors.

Diamond Chrome Plating provided the following statement to 7 Action News in response:

Diamond Chrome Plating, Inc. (DCP) is located in Howell, Michigan and was established
in 1953. It has a long history of providing a broad range of metal finishing services to the
aerospace and aircraft markets, dating back to its plating of parts for the lunar landing, as
well as government and defense markets, including plating parts for the M-16, and select
commercial industries. Its operations started out in a small 7,500 sq. ft. building and
eventually grew to its present 35,000 sq. ft. building filling a city block. DCP employs a
highly trained workforce of 50-60 team members spread over two shifts. DCP is a
member of the Howell Chamber of Commerce and Michigan Manufacturers Association,
and a committed community partner through sponsorship of area sports teams and
involvement in local charities and universities.

The plating industry, including DCP, has a long history of utilizing trichloroethylene
(TCE) vapor degreasers for the purpose of removing grease from metal parts. DCP has
used a TCE vapor degreaser for cleaning parts and is currently required in specifications
for various commercial and military applications, such as landing gear for multiple
commercial and military aircraft. DCP most recently replaced its vapor degreaser in late
2018. Since its installation, the new degreaser has undergone numerous updates and
enhancements in order to minimize any potential release of TCE. Throughout this
continuous improvement process, DCP has met Occupational Safety and Health
Administration (OSHA) standards designed to be protective of workers who spend the
work day in the vicinity of the degreaser.

TCE is a very common solvent that has been used for many years in industrial and
commercial applications, and in household products. All of the historical and current
vapor degreasers at DCP utilize virgin TCE, a chlorinated solvent, for the vapor
degreasing process. TCE is a colorless, volatile liquid that evaporates quickly into the air.
It is nonflammable and has a sweet odor.

DCP has been working diligently with the Michigan Department of Environment, Great
Lakes and Energy (EGLE), and in cooperation with the Michigan Department of Health
and Human Services (DHHS) to investigate potential environmental issues that were the
result of historical operations. This included evaluating concentrations of TCE in soil
and groundwater at, and in the vicinity of the DCP site, including a Volatilization to
Indoor Air Pathway (VIAP) evaluation to monitor the potential transfer of TCE
chemicals in soil and groundwater to the ambient indoor air of structures nearby. Through
the VIAP investigation, it was revealed that TCE detections are present in indoor air
samples. The residential structures that exhibited TCE detections were equipped with air
purification units to filter out TCE vapors from the air. Furthermore, additional
investigations revealed that these detections of TCE may be due to airborne emissions,
from the vapor degreasing process, leaving the DCP facility.

DCP, in coordination with EGLE, is working diligently to monitor and address any TCE
emissions from the facility. Various modifications to the vapor degreaser have been
implemented by DCP in order to reduce the overall TCE emissions.

DCP is also working to eliminate the use of TCE in the vapor degreasing process.

DCP is committed to the protection of its workers and the community that it has been part
of for the last 65 years.