Eight Tons of Hazardous Waste Materials Removed From Area Watershed
"It's beyond a success," said Les Cheneaux Watershed Project Coordinator Pat Carr.
"One guy said he brought in stuff that was over 40 years old," said Les Cheneaux Watershed Council President Christine Perrault.
The Les Cheneaux Watershed Project and Chippewa/East Mackinac Conservation District sponsored and staffed the clean-up, along with members of the Les Cheneaux Watershed Council. Mr. Carr, Ms. Perrault, and Hank Lotozinski worked at the collection. Clark Township provided its town hall parking lot to serve as the collection site, where a professional hazardous waste collection company set up its operation.
Clad in protective white coveralls, goggles, yellow helmets and rain coats, and rubber gloves, the staff of Drug and Laboratory Disposal of Plainwell collected and packed up hazardous waste items in a drive-through system that allowed people to bring their items into the parking lot and drive out once they were unloaded. The collection started at 9 a.m., and by noon that day, 11,000 pounds of waste had been collected. When the collection ended at 3 p.m., 16,000 pounds of hazardous waste had been brought to the site.
Items were packed into 55-gallon containers to be hauled off in a semi-truck for disposal. For 30 years, Drug and Laboratory Disposal (DLD) has operated a licensed treatment, storage, and disposal facility to get rid of hazardous and non-hazardous chemical waste, especially laboratory waste that could be harmful to people, animals, and the environment if released. Some of the waste, like batteries, computers, and mercury from thermometers, can be recycled, said Ben Belote, one of DLD's employees at the collection site. Most of it is destroyed by incineration and used as fuel, however, like highly flammable paints, some electronic components, and the contents of propane cylinders.
The company was hired to fulfill one of the Les Cheneaux Watershed Project's goals of ridding the watershed of things that could contaminate the water. Hazardous waste collection is one of the many projects funded by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality's $618,400 grant awarded for water quality protection efforts in the 115- square-mile watershed. The watershed includes mostly Clark Township, but also the portions of Marquette and Raber townships that drain to Lake Huron, as well as the 36 Les Cheneaux Islands.
In addition to the other activities funded by the project, the grant provided money each year for three years of hazardous waste collection. This first-year collection has already exceeded the three-year budget, as watershed residents brought in three times the amount of waste organizers anticipated, Mr. Carr said, so the Conservation District and Watershed Project will raise additional money for the next two years of clean-ups. Donations or grants will be sought to cover the cost of additional clean-ups.
Drug and Laboratory Disposal estimates 1% of a community's population will participate in a hazardous waste collection. The Les Cheneaux Watershed had about a 10% response. Mr. Carr mailed flyers to 1,600 households in a 100- square mile area, and 160 of households brought in hazardous materials.
Among the materials removed from the watershed, Ms. Perrault listed two 55-gallon drums of an oil antifreeze mix, several used batteries, used oil, paint stripper, and quite a bit of paint. One resident brought 40 years of collected waste, including poisons like DDT and Chlordane, two pesticides now banned by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Mr. Carr, who grew up in the watershed, said he thinks there has never been a hazardous waste clean-up in the Les Cheneaux area. With no opportunity or place to properly dispose of chemicals and oil products, he said, those residents who didn't pour the substances out probably do have stockpiles of old chemicals in their garages, boat houses, homes, or outdoors. Surface water like lakes and streams, and the unseen groundwater that people drink, can easily be tainted by pollutants, he added. The Les Cheneaux Watershed has miles of exposed shoreline, and cracks in the limestone bedrock underground, which easily conducts pollutants on the surface down to drinking water wells.
"When you think of all this stuff we collected that could have ended up on the ground, in the surface water, along the shoreline, or in the groundwater, it's just amazing," Mr. Carr said.