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State issues violation notices to Tribar Manufacturing for Huron River contamination, says operator overrode alarm more than 450 times

State officials have served multiple violation notices to the Wixom company responsible for a chemical release that threatened the Huron River system.

The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) says their Water Resources Division (WRD) issued violations to Tribar Manufacturing and initiated accelerated enforcement related to issues involving the unauthorized release of a plating solution containing hexavalent chromium the weekend of July 29.

Signs at Kent Lake advising the public to stay out of the water

EGLE’s Air Quality Division issued separate notices related to a July 21 inspection – prior to and not directly related to the release. The WRD cited Tribar for violations including:

• Failing to immediately notify EGLE immediately after discovering the discharge as required under the law and their industrial user discharge permit.

• Sending an unauthorized discharge of pollutants to the wastewater treatment facility that resulted in interference to the treatment process, violating pretreatment rules in the Michigan Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act (NREPA).

• Failure to maintain a properly updated Pollution Incident Prevention Plan (PIPP) and failing to certify compliance with NREPA rules regarding spillage of oil and polluting materials.

They also noted that the company’s operator overrode alarms 460 times on July 29, allowing a large tank containing the toxic chemical to drain into Wixom’s wastewater treatment system unimpeded.

“Please explain how the operator overrode the waste treatment alarms 460 times between the programmable logic controller time stamp of 4:59 p.m. to 7:46 p.m. on Friday, July 29, 2022,” EGLE’s notice states.

Tribar told The Detroit Free Press that the employee involved was no longer with the company.

”Tribar has invested millions of dollars in sophisticated environmental controls to prevent an accidental release of wastewater prior to treatment at our facility,” read the statement. “Based on an initial investigation, those automated controls were all functioning properly at the time the plating solution was released to the wastewater treatment plant. However, the controls were repeatedly overridden by the operator on duty while the facility was shut down for the weekend. That individual is no longer employed by our company, and we are in the process of further improving our internal controls to prevent a future occurrence.”

EGLE’s WRD gave the company until Aug. 20 to respond in writing to the violation notices, including responses to a series of questions designed to determine exactly what happened, and when, that led up to the release. Repeated requests by EGLE investigators for this critical information have not been adequately addressed by Tribar.

Due to the seriousness of the violations, EGLE says it has initiated accelerated enforcement, which will begin an administrative consent order process and seek full cost recovery from Tribar.

The AQD violations, available here and here, include:

• Metal treatment tanks not being properly controlled, which may have allowed unauthorized emissions of nickel and total chrome.

• Failure to keep proper records that would document compliance with air permit conditions for various processes.

The AQD notices include multiple instances of records not being kept as required in the company’s air permits. Because records were not kept as required, the company could not show compliance with several pollutants, including volatile organic compounds and hazardous air pollutants, how much of certain chemicals were used in certain time frames, and the information to show control equipment on the coating line was operating properly. The notices also include violations for not properly operating equipment to minimize and control emissions of nickel and total chrome.

The company has until Aug. 30 to submit explanations of how the violations occurred and what actions are being taken to resolve them.

EGLE, through its Environmental Investigation Section, continues to probe the circumstance surrounding the release. The EIS has both civil and criminal authority over violations of environmental and public health laws.

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