The Invisible Perpetrators of Environmental Crimes

The Lange and Revere Street Canals in St. Clair Shores, MI

In 2007, the EPA spent $10 million cleaning up PCBs in two canals next to Lake St. Clair. Meetings were held, reports were written. Fantastic. Onto the next problem site, right? Well, Wayne State University researchers took some samples from the same canals just three years later and concluded, according to my family’s local paper, that “contamination [had] returned to levels high as they were prior to… the EPA cleanup effort”. All this begs the question: where the hell is this stuff coming from? Does it make sense to clean up a contaminated site if the source of the pollution hasn’t been identified or stopped? An EPA/MDEQ report identified PCBs in the larger 10-Mile drainage system that feeds the canals, the drain site of which is located here:

“This investigation resulted in the discovery of the PCBs located in the soils adjacent to the drain and in some surficial soils in the area of Bon Brae and Harper Avenue.”

(Surficial, by the way, is just a fancy way of saying the contamination is coming from the surface, although the site is also contaminated with long-buried waste of yore). Then, employing somewhat circular logic, the report says:

Due to the nature of the Site having contaminated soils impacted by migration of contaminants from an unknown source or sources, there is no information on the operational history. Since there is no currently known facility or facilities that the contamination can be attributed to, there is no way to document the operations that likely caused these contaminants to be released into the environment.

The report, while providing generous information on testing activities, the geology of the site, and acronyms for various laws, never manages to answer the responsibility question. Surely an examination of zoning records, interviewing locals and other less “sciency” methods would uncover the source? The pollution comes from humans, after all, not a particular sediment structure. It also fails to illuminate why the contamination would remain after clean up. Maybe I’m counting too much on the importance of responsibility? Major environmental crimes are often treated like they have no perpetrator.

One thought on “The Invisible Perpetrators of Environmental Crimes

  1. Francis says:

    I read in the linked report that they sent letters to locals warning them about the contamination, as well as admitting the negative effects of contamination are long term, not so much short term. If the EPA or the local newspaper checked the business, zoning, and waste handling records, and found some companies with at least the means to have done the unhappy deed, do you think that would be enough for locals to boycott or send angry letters or even send community action requests to fix the PCB leakage closer to the source?


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