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Issues of the Environment: Ypsilanti Township seeks remediation of environmental and health hazard


  • Dating back to at least July 2023, a massive pile of a black, coal-like substance appeared on a commercial property in Ypsilanti Charter Twp. The property is owned by OKD Transport, an interstate materials hauling company that also does snow removal and landscaping. The owner, Ahmad Dari, contends that the substance was tested and found to be non-hazardous prior to being received at the facility. 
  • The Township has questions whether the substance on the property may be environmentally hazardous, and they are taking legal action. According to MLive, “Sediment in nearby storm drains has been tested at the township’s request, showing alarming levels of toxic substances like arsenic and chromium, [said attorney Doug Winters].The mound, which was being trucked away in the days before the New Year’s holiday weekend, is located on property off East Michigan Avenue and Wiard Road. Supervisor Brenda Stumbo also stated she is concerned about the washing of the trucks on Minon St. and that they may be washing the hazardous material into the adjacent neighborhood among other places. (Source: *directly quoted* https://www.mlive.com/news/ann-arbor/2024/01/mountain-of-coal-mixture-at-ypsilanti-area-business-raises-concerns-for-officials.html;2023-12-19-Township-Board-Regular-Meeting-Minutes.pdf)
  • In November 2023, the Washtenaw County Water Resources Commissioner’s Office began testing sediments near the drains. A letter from the WCWRC office says it is “clearly evident” that rain is leaching material from the stockpiles, and black staining near the mounds has resulted from the runoff. The letter says that zinc, lead, copper, phosphorus, chromium, arsenic, hydrocarbons, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons were at levels exceeding regulatory thresholds that were detected in the drains. Water Resources Commissioner Evan Pratt admits that road runoff can at times exude these toxins, so the results don’t definitively prove the contamination is from the coal-mixture pile. 


David Fair: This is 89 one WEMU. And there are folks in Ypsilanti Township very concerned there may be some toxic contamination in some of the area's storm drains. I'm David Fair, and welcome to this week's edition of Issues of the Environment. At issue is a massive pile of a coal-like substance that was on the property owned by OKD Transport, just off East Michigan Avenue and Wiard Road. Testing ordered by the township initially found high levels of toxic substances, including arsenic and chromium. But the owner of the interstate materials hauling company has said that prior to the substance arriving on his property, it was tested and declared non-hazardous. So, where are we now? Our guest today is Doug Winters, who is serving as attorney for Ypsilanti Township. Thank you for making the time. I appreciate it.

Attorney Doug Winters
Doug Winters
Attorney Doug Winters

Doug Winters: Good morning.

David Fair: So, when was this pile first noticed on the OKD Transport property?

Doug Winters: In the summer of 2023, the ordinance had served notice at the beginnings of,this pile. At that time, I was not aware of what was going on. They went out to the property. They did call EGLE at the time, the state Environmental Oversight agency, and they claimed they were going to remove it ASAP and that it was non-hazardous. And after that point in time, things took a turn for the worse.

David Fair: Ypsilanti Township then decided that it would ask the Washtenaw County Water Resources Commissioner's Office to do some more formal testing. And what did those results find?

Doug Winters: Well, what happened after the initial July observation, it grew. And I'm not exaggerating to anyone listening to this. It was mountains of what we thought was definitely a coal product. We didn't know what it was, where it came from, and we still don't know where it came from. We started asking again more questions. EGLE came back a second time during the interim time period. Evan Pratt from the Water Resource Commission performed the testing and came back with very high levels of a number of contaminated materials: arsenic, chromium, other materials, a contamination that if high, cancer linked relationships. And so, at that point in time, we were in court, and we demanded that all those that product be removed from the site. We're not sure where it went, and we're not sure where it came from, but it was being a new operating and illegal transfer stations, more or less. And Evan Pratt, the water resource commissioner, was very helpful in identifying those carcinogens and also, did the testing for the catch basins that are located on Wiard Road just outside the property.

David Fair: Well, you're not sure how it got there. You're not sure where it went. Has the substance been formally identified?

Doug Winters: Well, we actually know it's a coal product. We don't know exactly. We do know within the second sample, after we were allowed to scoop up a handful after they removed the mountain of the coal product, went back to the same laboratory. They came back with a high level of oil and grease, and they are of the opinion that that concentration of that magnitude could also cause a problem with the storm sewers, that, again, take us back to the Washtenaw County Water Resource and probably the Washtenaw County Road Commission, because catch basins are located on Wiard Road. The Road Commission has jurisdiction over the road, and the Water Resource has jurisdiction over what faces going to the storm sewers. The major disappointment in all of this is that the township is not the agency that has the resources and the knowledge and expertise to handle this environmental issue, and it should have been handled at the state level. And we're still extremely, extremely disappointed that nobody is taking this issue seriously. The township feels, in many ways, that this is just another example of how you can have disparate outcomes in different parts of Washtenaw County. I've had some people talk about environmental justice, but yet, when you put the test to them, nobody wants to come forward and be of assistance. This should not be a burden hoisted upon the township. It should be taken much more seriously by EGLE and, thankfully, Commissioner Pratt has done a great job in assisting us. And he also may be joining in this lawsuit--his council--because we need to get to the bottom of just what exactly the soil that remains in that site--is it contaminated or not. We just don't know.

David Fair: Once again, you are listening to Issues of the Environment. We're having a conversation with the attorney representing Ypsilanti Township, Doug Winters, on 89 one WEMU. Well, you still don't know exactly what that is, but the owner of the property has said that all materials were non-hazardous, they've been removed, and that the contamination that is being experienced in the area likely comes from or potentially comes from other sources. How do you respond to that contention?

Doug Winters: Well, there could be other sources, but given the location of those catch basins, I know you can't see this, but there's actually a trail of this black substance going directly off-site of the catch basins. So, did it come into mixture with other contamination? Possibly. But the bottom line is the runoff was coming directly from their property, not to mention it was blown throughout the property in the air. We don't know exactly, again, if the sample we took was on site on their property. And, again, it's for high levels of oil and grease and some other hydrocarbons or petroleum that, again, needs to be addressed. And, again, it's kind of like when you add something to it, that doesn't take away the fact that you are a contributing party to this level of contamination. So, again, it never should have happened to begin with, or that somehow other people may have contributed does not take away from the fact that it was allowed to occur.

David Fair: What all do you seek to accomplish with the lawsuit?

Doug Winters: First of all, again, we want to have a permanent injunction that this could never happen again. And number two, we want to make sure that the property is going to be utilized for a proper use, per the zoning ordinance, that the soil on that site is not contaminated. Again, the high levels of oil and grease is a concern because of the experts who say this can also go into the storm sewers and cause a problem. So, right now, we just don't have our arms around this issue after just what actually has to be done on that property in order to have a full remediation. We didn't cause the problem. We told them not to do it. They went ahead and did it anyway. So now, there has to be some degree of accountability to the court system, in regard to make sure the property is not going to be a health hazard to any of those who once came into contact or any employees who work there.

David Fair: Is there a possibility that, prior to resolution of any such lawsuit, that the township, the county, or the state Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy will be able to get out there and look at the property? Or is that going to take a court order?

Doug Winters: Well, the court order allows us to have access if we need to have that right now. We did get access by consent for the sample that we took. It was, again, a very, small sample because most of the coal product had been removed. But the bigger question still remains: Where exactly this came from? They have documentation. They're required to have what they call a truck manifest to show where the material came from and a truck manifest as to where it went. We don't think we should just stop here and just say, "It's out of our township." It had to go somewhere. And, again, given the high concentrations of all the contamination chemicals that were found initially in the catch basins, we would not want another community to go through this again. We're just kind of passing the hot potato to somebody else. So, somebody at the state level needs to be more involved in this.

David Fair: Once again, this is 89 one WEMU. We're talking with the attorney representing Ypsilanti Township, Doug Winters, on Issues of the Environment. Obviously, if there is contamination and we can get some kind of grasp on how widespread it is and what it all contains, there's going to be a need for remediation. Will you be seeking the cost of getting that remediation taken care of from the owner of the property?

Doug Winters: Well, absolutely. Again, this goes back to what they created. It's a self-created issue--a self-created problem. So, the costs are being borne by the township. When you violate ordinances with that to this degree of impunity and later on say, "Well, I got rid of this," and you leave behind something that can be a future problem, we didn't create this, but we're going to make sure we follow it through and get to the bottom of it because we cannot allow it. It can't just occur. Again, people talk about environmental issues at the county level and everybody's pro-environment, but when rubber hits the road, where is the help that we need from other places? It needs much more oversight and authority than Ypsilanti Township. That's why we had to go to court to begin with.

David Fair: What is the next step in the legal process?

Doug Winters: We have another court hearing in regards to this issue of what exactly our analysis has shown in regards to the oil and grease and the petroleum-based products were found in the sample and what remediation would be appropriate to ensure this site was in fact clear from those concentrations. So, again, I think there's more work to be done in terms of the remediation and there's more hearings to be had. This started back in November, I believe. And so, this is still early in the process, but we want to make sure that we do our due diligence and assure the township that we are seeing this property remediated to the extent possible.

David Fair: Well, I'd like to thank you for taking the time to update us and let us know the full extent of the situation at this time, and we'll look forward to another conversation as the process moves through the legal system.

Doug Winters: Okay. Thank you very kindly.

David Fair: That is Ypsilanti Township attorney Doug Winters. For more information on the potential contamination and legal proceedings, visit our website at wemu.org. I'm David Fair, and this is your community member station, 89 one WEMU FM Ypsilanti.

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