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article imageFormer radioactive site collapses into Detroit River

By Karen Graham     Dec 7, 2019 in Environment
A site on the Detroit River that was once used to produce radioactive materials during World War II collapsed last month raising concerns about whether the adjacent water supply is safe to drink.
Located next to Historic Fort Wayne and leased by Detroit Bulk Storage, the site - known as the Detroit Dock - allegedly collapsed under the weight of large aggregate piles that were stored at the site on November 26, 2019, according to the Detroit Free Press.
Detroit Bulk Storage, established in 1985, deals in shipping aggregates, such as salt, coal, coke, and other products - providing material for road construction, including asphalt and concrete. They had stored piles of the aggregates on the docks at the site over the Thanksgiving holiday.
Detroit Bulk Storage Inc. on West Jefferson Ave. Detroit  Michigan
Detroit Bulk Storage Inc. on West Jefferson Ave. Detroit, Michigan
Google Maps
Located at 5851 West Jefferson, the property formerly was a Revere Copper and Brass site. However, during World War II, Revere Copper was subcontracted to work on the Manhattan Project to make the first atomic bomb. After World War II and into the 1950s, Revere Copper continued to construct uranium rods. In 1989, after the plant had been closed for five years, it was demolished.
The EPA’s Region 5 office, as well as the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) have assured the public that there is no current risk of exposure to radioactive material. EGLE went on to issue a statement to that effect: "EGLE is aware that the site was previously used to process uranium and there is no evidence to suggest that there is a current radiological risk," the statement said. "EGLE has no reason to believe PCBs or other contaminants from the site are a hazard to the public or the environment. However, EGLE intends to continue investigating potential impacts as part of its assessment of the incident."
How safe is the Detroit Docks site?
It should be noted that the site has faced scrutiny over who would be responsible for remedial cleanup. A 2011 evaluation of the property by the U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health said there was a “potential ... for significant residual radiation.” This latest evaluation of the site paints a different picture from previous studies.
This is especially concerning because the Detroit drinking water intake lines are nearby downriver. Not only that, but the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) listed the Detroit River as an "area of concern" back in 1987. The EPA says it is the removal of toxic sediment that is still taking time, estimating nearly three to four million cubic yards of it existing in the river.
In 1990, according to the Detroit Free Press, the Formerly Utilized Sites Remedial Action Program under the Department of Energy eliminated the site as an environmental hazard, citing "radiation levels were below criteria."
Only two atom bombs have been used militarily: the Hiroshima bomb and the one dropped by the US on N...
Only two atom bombs have been used militarily: the Hiroshima bomb and the one dropped by the US on Nagasaki three days later. No H-bomb has yet been used except in tests
Revere Copper was not the only business subcontracted to work on the atomic bomb. Parts for the Little Boy atomic bomb, which was dropped on Hiroshima, were manufactured at Expert Die and Tool in Hamtramck and The Naval Ordnance Plant in Centerline, along with another plant in Washington, D.C.
Not everyone is happy
Lawmakers on both sides of the border are expressing concerns over the possible contamination of the Detroit River. New Democratic Party member Brian Masse of the Canadian Parliament, expressing concern over the possible environmental impact to the Great Lakes and the nearby city of Windsor, Canada, believes the incident should be investigated by the International Joint Commission and the governments of the U.S. and Canada.
“Forty million people use the Great Lakes for drinking water, and the ecosystem is already fragile,” Masse said. “Any potential threat should be investigated immediately on both sides of the border," Masse in a statement.
The skyline of skyscrapers of Detroit from Windsor  Canada.
The skyline of skyscrapers of Detroit from Windsor, Canada.
Aiko99ann (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, who represents the 13th District of Michigan also doesn't put much faith in the assurances that there is no current risk of exposure to radioactive material. In a statement, the Congresswoman said: "This week, my team and I became aware of the collapse of the dock at the Revere Copper site into the Detroit River near an intake site for a water system that services millions of people across Michigan. It is alarming that we, like many others, only became aware of this through a news report a week after the incident occurred at a site that once processed radioactive materials."
Not only does Tlaib want the owners of the property in question to be held accountable for the cleanup and any additional remedial actions that could be needed, but Congresswoman Tliab also wants answers as to why it took so long for the EPA and EGLE to find out about the collapse.
"Moreover, I have significant concerns about the delay in both notifying the public about this collapse and the government regulatory agencies’ response, as it appears that EPA and EGLE found out about the collapse through media inquiries from the Windsor Star," Tlaib said.
More about Revere Copper and brass, remedial cleanup, Uranium, Manhattan Project, collapse into Detroit river
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