Tribar Technologies disclosed a massive hexavalent chromium leak to officials on Monday.
Local law enforcement in Wixom, Michigan, opened a criminal investigation into the situation surrounding a massive release of hexavalent chromium into the Huron River over the weekend by a local tier-1 automotive supplier.
According to the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE), Tribar Technologies contacted officials at around 3:20 p.m. on Monday with the news that it released thousands of gallons of liquid containing 5 percent hexavalent chromium into Wixom’s local sewer system.
“The company says it discovered the release Monday but indicated it may have started as early as Saturday morning, according to Wixom city officials,” EGLE said in a press release. “It is believed that much of the contaminant already made its way through the treatment plant by the time the release was discovered.”
While the state has yet to confirm many details, MLive reports that between 8000 and 10,000 gallons of the contaminated fluid may have made it through the treatment facility. Michigan officials issued a “no contact” advisory with the Huron River on Tuesday as a result of the incident. The company currently operates four facilities in Wixom. It is not clear at this time which facility is responsible for the hexachrome leak.
“This is a significant release into a large, much-loved waterway,” said Liesl Clark, EGLE director. “Our teams are in the field now assessing the situation. We will stay on the job as long as it takes to ensure residents are safe and impacts to the ecosystem are minimized.”
Hexavalent chromium, more commonly referred to as hexchrome, is a carcinogenic chemical used in plastic finishing processes. It is a harmful toxin that can cause a variety of health problems if ingested, inhaled, or even contacted through skin. In the automotive world, the compound is used during the process of coating trim pieces. The compound is currently banned in Europe due to the health risks it poses.
Lieutenant Mark Bradley of the Wixom Police Department said that an investigation into the incident is currently underway, which will attempt to determine whether there was any criminal intent or gross negligence on the part of Tribar Technologies, MLive reports. It is unusual for a local agency to be leading this sort of investigation, which would normally be helmed by state environmental agencies or the EPA. An EPA spokesperson has released a statement noting the agency’s ongoing support of the current investigation.
Automakers such as Ford, General Motors, Toyota and Rivian are all listed as customers of the supplier. You might be familiar with Tribar’s work by way of the Ford Bronco and its raised grille lettering.
This isn’t the first time that Tribar Technologies has caused a major stir with local residents and conservationists. In 2018, officials tied the company to the presence of chemicals in the water that are largely responsible for the Huron River’s active “Do Not Eat” fish advisory. This new incident has yet again raised concerns over drinking water safety in Ann Arbor and other local municipalities. State health officials have also now stated that residents should not touch or ingest fish or water plants downstream of Wixom in both Oakland and Livingston counties.
The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services urges anyone with questions about potential hexchrome exposure to contact the MI Toxic Hotline at 800-648-6942.
Tribar was not immediately available for comment.