The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy said in the initial news release Aug. 2 that the company notified the department of the contamination at 3:21 p.m. on Aug. 1. The contamination could have started as early as Saturday, the company told EGLE.
EGLE said Aug. 3 that officials have met with the company and inspected the plant.
"One goal is to better define the volume/amount of liquid containing 5 percent hexavalent chromium that was discharged to the sanitary sewer system from Tribar over the weekend and routed to the Wixom wastewater treatment facility," the department said in a news release.
At the same time, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services launched a hotline (800-648-6942) for residents with questions or concerns about exposure. The chemical can cause harm through ingestion, skin contact or inhalation.
Brown said after ordering the company to cease operations, it sent police officers to question plant operators about how the contamination happened. The operators declined to speak without an attorney, Brown said, and the city was notified shortly after that the Michigan Department of Natural Resources would be taking over the investigation.
EGLE officials were not available for an interview Aug. 3.
Tribar, which supplies decorative trim and badge assemblies to the automotive industry, could not be reached for comment.
Amy McMillan, director of Huron-Clinton Metroparks, said the park system shut down the beaches and boat rentals at Kensington Metropark after being notified of the contamination through EGLE's media release Tuesday.
"We are disappointed and alarmed about the spill itself and the lack of communication from the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy," McMillan said in an email. "Despite past promises to be information partners, EGLE did not directly contact us about the spill. This inexcusable disregard for public safety put park users at risk."
Tribar employs around 70 workers at Plant 5 and roughly 400 in Wixom, Brown said. It has 58 injection-molding presses and $130 million in sales, according to Plastics News estimates. The company has operated under several different names in recent years. Its listed as a portfolio company of Washington, DC-based HCI Equity Partners, which invested in 2015, according to its website.
Inquiries to HCI spokespeople were not returned Wednesday.
The plants in Wixom have a history of contaminating metro Detroit waterways. The plants have been hit with two violations for discharge of PFAS chemicals, first in 2018 and again in 2021, according to records provided by EGLE.
It is not known how long the PFAS chemicals were actually being discharged, however, because prior to 2018 there were no requirements for monitoring industrial discharge of the emerging pollutant, which has since been discovered to be more hazardous than previously thought and thus more strictly regulated.
In response to an order by the city of Wixom in 2018, the company installed a system to treat the discharged liquid for PFAS chemicals. Three years later, the company installed granular activated carbon filters in response to a PFAS violation from the state.
State officials said Aug. 3 that results from nine samples taken downstream from the chemical release would be ready Aug. 4. Results from two tests taken at Norton Creek and on the Huron River did not detect hexavalent chromium Wednesday, but officials said no conclusions can be drawn from that.
"The agency, in concert with partners from across the watershed, is developing a testing plan for coming days and weeks," EGLE said.
Until the extent of contamination is identified, residents and nearby parks and businesses are left waiting.
Bruce Heavner, owner of Heavner Canoe & Kayak Rental in Milford along the Huron River, said the business can continue operating despite the spill, though they have had to make adjustments to their routes.
"The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and Michigan Department of Natural Resources said we can put trips starting in our location and going upstream and pedaling back to our location, but we can't do anything downstream because the drain that flows into the Huron River that was contaminated is downstream of us," owner Bruce Heavner said.
Heavner said the spill has already begun to impact business, as the business has had to alter the reservations of customers, and had to pick up customers who were mid-trip downriver.
"We're concerned about how this beautiful stretch of the river is being affected [with] all the wildlife and people not being able to go and enjoy it," Heavner said. "Unfortunately, our pocketbook is a side effect of that, but that's not our main concern."
In a statement on the business' website, Heavner Canoe and Kayak Rental said prolonged exposure to the contaminated area is the greatest risk, though customers who have been in the affected area should be safe if they take "a good shower."
Brown said the next step for Wixom will be to determine how to decontaminate its wastewater treatment plant — and keep Tribar on the hook for costs associated with it.
"We don't have an exact understanding of what we are faced with," he said.