EPA: Company improperly storing hazardous waste could have caused 'catastrophe' in Oakland County
About 5,000 containers of hazardous waste discovered, officials say
MADISON HEIGHTS, Mich. – A Madison Heights businessman pleaded guilty to running a business that endangered the public and the environment, authorities said.
Gary Sayers, 69, pleaded guilty Thursday in federal court to storing hazardous waste without a permit.
Prosecutors told the judge it took nearly $1.5 million of taxpayers money and more than a year to clean up the hazardous mess.
Officials said what's even more disturbing is the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality knew about violations for years and allowed the business to remain open.
Inspectors found an estimated 5,000 containers of hazardous waste and materials that were improperly stored, unlabeled, open and corroded or in very poor condition.
The Environmental Protection Agency provided 59 pictures of what was found at the company. You can see them in the gallery below.
The discovery was made inside Electro Plating Services in Madison Heights when the company was finally told to cease operations by the MDEQ.
"In my opinion, yes, it's the worst case I've ever seen," said Jeff Lipertt, the on-scene coordinator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
"See right here? This is where a drip from upstairs had eaten the concrete," Lippert said.
He was in charge of leading the cleanup of the mess.
"The holes in the wall and the ceilings, the container stored close to other reactive chemicals -- that's what made this the worst," Lippert said.
"If those would have combined, this place could have blown?" Local 4 Defender Karen Drew asked.
"Absolutely," Lippert said.
Electro Plating was located within 500 feet of residential neighborhoods and overlooked I-696. There were nine day cares, schools and senior living facilities within a mile of the company.
If there had been an explosion, experts said it would have been a catastrophe.
"Do you think the public knew this was going on?" Karen asked.
"I know the fire department had a long history and DEQ had a long history," Lippert said.
Sayers is set to be sentenced May 16. Prosecutors are asking for a 12- to 18-month sentence. He could also face a personal fine of up to $250,000.
His company could face a fine of up to $500,000.
It was no secret that Electro Plating was breaking the law. The Local 4 Defenders have learned the company was cited for compliance by the MDEQ for nearly two decades.
Why did it take so long to shut down the company? Are there other companies with years of violations still putting the public at risk?
Nobody from the MDEQ would answer the Defenders' questions, and officials denied any kind of on-camera interview.
The MDEQ issued the following statement:
"DEQ aggressively pursued EPS prior to the current matter. Past violations were addressed through administrative and criminal enforcement which resulted in the owner cleaning up the Madison Heights facility in 2010.
"In 2016 we received a new complaint regarding improper chemical storage at the Madison Heights site. The closure of this facility was the only course of action left to address ongoing non-compliance, including previous criminal enforcement action and a prior consent order in which the company agreed to clean-up the site and operate in compliance with the law."
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