DEQ panel addresses public concerns over Mueller Brass lead cleanup

By Cory Smith • Last Updated 9:15 am on Friday, October 14, 2011

BELDING — Air and soil monitoring will continue for at least another three years around Belding’s Mueller Brass plant.
The first phase of soil cleanup is underway this month in the neighborhood east of the plant at 302 Ashfield St.
“Right now, your soil is being cleaned up so there are no exceeded levels in your soil,” Chris Christensen of the Michigan Department Environmental Quality Remediation Division told about 20 area residents at a hearing Monday.
“That’s our job right now, along with making sure it stays that way in the future,” he said. “We’re looking at sampling the current scrapes. We haven’t had the discussion (about procedure) on future positive tests yet, but we aren’t going to forget about this remediation. Two air monitors will be in place for three years. We’re not going to be walking away and closing the door on this situation.”
Belding resident Liz Miller owns three properties on Howard Street, all of which were found to have contaminated topsoil.
“I’m pretty disappointed in the three little square areas dug up in my yards.” Miller said. “I know that not every area of my yards were deemed toxic enough for remediation, but I’ve noticed some of the toxicity levels have risen since June. How soon until the areas that were not toxic enough are eventually too toxic? I just don’t feel safe.”
Christensen reiterated that considerable testing has been done to make sure once remediation efforts are completed, toxicity levels in the area stay below limits.
“We’ve tested three times using two methods and the hot spots are being taken care of,” Christensen said. “At this point in time those yards have been sampled many times with lots of samples. After remediation efforts are complete, your yards will be safe. Does that mean they are going to be safe forever? Not necessarily. This is why we’re going to continue to keep testing for at least three years.”
Among other concerns raised during the forum was the issue of wind patterns and disbursement of emissions over areas possibly not being monitored by two air testing stations currently in place near Mueller Brass.
“The wind doesn’t always blow in the direction of the air testing stations,” Harrison Street resident Matt Humphrey said. “I was out Friday night on a bike ride and as soon as I got to the west end of the plant, I could smell stuff I didn’t usually smell. I feel I should be concerned.”
Christensen assured residents testing has been done in every direction from the plant.
“When we did our initial sampling, we went all around,” Christensen said. “We went all the way out to Candlestone. The areas that exceeded in levels of lead were all focused on the 500 block, barely into the 600 block, because of the normal wind pattern. We did soil sampling surrounding the entire facility.”
Jim Heywood, meteorologist for the DEQ Air Quality Division, said computer models were used to predict wind patterns at a three month average.
“At any given hour the wind can come from any direction, but over a three-month average it’s going to be blowing from the south,” Heywood said. “The computer models predicted on that average, and we placed the air testing moniters in accordance with that data. We used five years worth of meteorology to place these monitors.”
Several community members addressed concerns about grass not growing in their yards for more than 20 years, but Christensen claimed the lead emissions were not responsible for the lack of growth.
“We also took organic compost testing,” Christensen said. “We do not feel that lead is a significant factor in the lack of growth. The soil is just poor quality. Many yards don’t have organic matter for grass to grow. That’s why your yard is not getting cleaned up. It’s been tested three times with two methods to show that it is safe.”

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