Inside Hazel Park’s Max Dugan Saloon staffers are trying to make the best of a toxic situation.
“We have a secret mixture,” says Jaimie Kraczkowski. “It’s the ‘Green Ooze’ shot for $4.50. It’s a beautiful color, isn’t it?”
The neon-green colored drink is meant to mimic a hazardous material that’s been leaching onto the I-696 service drive in Madison Heights, just one street over from where this bar sits in Hazel Park. The eerie-looking chemical has been identified as hexavalent chromium. It’s the cancer-causing heavy metal that Erin Brockovich became famous fighting to expose.
“We’re drinking bottled water, which is an extra expense. But we got to do what we got to do.” - Christina Stack, Hazel Park resident
“Get Erin Brockovich over there maybe she can fix it,” remarks bar regular Bill Reardon. He tries a Green Ooze shot and says it tastes “like hell.”
Click on the player above for reactions to the ‘green ooze’ contaminant.
Bartender Jaimie Kraczkowski says the drink, created by the bar’s owner, was very popular on New Year’s Eve. The holiday fell just 11 days after motorists reported seeing a mysterious green ooze spilling out onto the I-696 service drive in Madison Heights, just east of I-75.
“Once we saw it online, especially pictures of it, we felt like ‘Oh gosh,’” says Hazel Park resident, Christina Stack. She and her sister live about 100 yards away from the contaminated site.
“People were telling us ‘Oh that’s poison… that’s poison!’ and I was just like ‘Wait, what? This is just coming out of the ground?’” says Stack.
The siblings say they’re afraid to drink their tap water.
“We’re definitely drinking bottled water, which is an extra expense, which we feel upset about. But we got to do what we got to do,” says Stack.
“There’s no imminent threat to anywhere in this area that’s drinking municipal water.” - Jill Greenberg, EGLE
The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes & Energy, the state regulator known as EGLE, says the drinking water in the area is safe to drink.
“There’s no imminent threat to anywhere in this area that’s drinking municipal water” says EGLE spokesperson Jill Greenberg. That’s because the drinking water is part of the Great Lakes Water Authority and is piped in from elsewhere.
But some local officials, like Macomb County Public Works Commissioner Candice Miller, are worried that harmful levels of the contaminant may flow into storm sewers and travel through creeks and rivers to Lake St. Clair where drinking water is pulled from. Greenberg says EGLE thinks the concentration would be too diluted to be harmful by the time it reached the Great Lakes, but she says, “tests are ongoing and we do want to find out where this contaminant is traveling.”
Last Thursday, contractors drilled into the ground to test nearby soil to see how far the hexavalent chromium had spread. Officials from Madison Heights, EGLE and even the Environmental Protection Agency monitored the progress.
Postal worker Guy Podzorski pulled up in his vehicle, got out and talked to some of the officials. He said he’s worked on this route more than 8 years and now he’s concerned about his health.
“I just wanted to make sure that if I go into a business I could wash my hands or anything like that,” he said.
The officials told him that groundwater doesn’t go directly into the faucets, and Podzorski said that made him feel a little better, but he’s still skeptical that all of the pollutants will be dealt with. That’s because federal and state regulators knew about the toxins here for years.
The hazardous material is coming from Electro Plating services, a business in Madison Heights on 10 Mile Road. Hexavalent chromium and other toxins were left over from the company’s metal finishing work and then stored on-site improperly.
“I want to make sure that I’m able to drink clean water. I want to be safe.” - Guy Podzorski, postal worker
State regulators ordered the company to shut down in 2016 and the EPA worked to clean up the business in 2017. The owner of Electro Plating services, Gary Sayers, was actually sentenced to a year in prison in November for storing hazardous waste at the location without a permit.
“I think it’s good PR for the agencies to be here, but I want to make sure that I’m able to drink clean water,” said Podzorski. “I don’t want to have the impression that I’m okay. I want to be safe.”
As a result of the state’s history with manufacturing, mining and other industries, contaminated sites like this one are fairly common in Michigan.
Bridge Magazine reported that in 2018 the state had more than 7,000 toxic sites on its radar and limited funds to take care of them. Now, after this incident on the Madison Heights-Hazel Park border, some Michigan residents are wondering just how much green ooze might be out there.