Friday, March 12, 2004
'03 St. Clair River spills: 13
Dem leaders ask Colin Powell to intercede in waterway fouling by plants in Ontario
By Gene Schabath / The Detroit News
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There were 13 spills of contaminants into the St. Clair River last year from chemical companies and other sources, a Ontario Ministry of Environment spokesman said Thursday night at a hearing of environmental groups in Port Huron.
Harrison Township environmentalist Doug Martz, who has been leading the fight to stop the spills in the river, said he was only aware of one discharge in 2003. That occurred Aug. 14-15 when chemical company Royal Polymers released 650 pounds of vinyl chloride into the river during the August blackout.
"Nothing surprises me," Martz said.
Mike Moroney, spokesman for the Ontario Ministry of the Environment, said he did not have details of the other spills.
News of the spills came hours after Michigan Democratic congressional leaders asked U.S. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell to help them stem the chronic chemical-spill pollution problem in the river coming from Ontario chemical and petroleum industries along the international waterway.
A letter was sent to Powell on Thursday by U.S. Sens. Carl Levin, D-Detroit, Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, and U.S. Rep. Sander Levin, D-Royal Oak, imploring Powell to meet with Canadian officials in a diplomatic maneuver to stop the discharges of dangerous chemicals and other pollutants.
The letter was prompted by two major discharges into the river from Canadian industries since January, and several other minor spills in the last few weeks. More than 20 people vacationing on Stag Island, about five miles downriver from the vinyl chloride spill in August, complained of rashes and respiratory problems.
On Feb. 1, more than 42,000 gallons of an oil solvent was released into the river from Imperial Oil of Sarnia. That forced about a dozen municipal drinking water plants on the Michigan side of the river to shut down for about 12 hours until the danger of contamination had passed. There have been at least 800 discharges into the river since the mid-1980s.
Roxanne Reed, a spokeswoman for Powell, said he would reply as soon as possible.
"It is important that Canadian federal and provincial governments understand that these chemical spills must stop," the Michigan lawmakers said in the letter to Powell. "We request that you raise this issue at the highest levels of the Canadian government and urge them to take concrete steps to prevent further chemicals spill in the St. Clair River."
Macomb County Assistant Prosecutor Mark Richardson, who was at the meeting, said he hoped the letter to Powell would inspire a summit between the two countries that would lead to a comprehensive water-monitoring system to detect dangerous chemicals when they are discharged into the river.
Martz, chairman of the Macomb Water Quality Board, said news of the 13 discharges dramatizes the need for drastic action, such as calling Powell into the fray.
Environmentalists at Thursday's meeting criticized the long delay in reporting some of the spills to water plant operators.
You can reach Gene Schabath at (586) 468-3614 or [email protected]
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