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Substance made famous by Erin Brockovich is what was seeping onto I-696

Hexavalent chromium found draining onto Michigan interstate

A substance seeps onto I-696 in Madison Heights on Dec. 20, 2019. (WDIV)
A substance seeps onto I-696 in Madison Heights on Dec. 20, 2019. (WDIV)


The substance found on the eastbound side I-696 last week near the Couzens Road exit is the now infamous hexavalent chromium that was featured in the 2000 film “Erin Brockovich."


  • Samples of the substance on I-696 were taken by the EPA for testing. The results are expected Tuesday.
  • Soil samples also were taken for testing. Those results also are expected this week.
  • Michigan officials say there is no danger to the public, and it is not impacting air or drinking water quality.

The film, starring Julia Roberts, told the story of Brockovich’s case against the Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) of California in 1993. Her case focused on the alleged contamination of drinking water with hexavalent chromium in Hinkley, Calif. She argued this substance was causing cancer in the town.

In Brockovich’s case, which ended up being settled in 1996 for $333 million, there has never been a definitive link between cancer cases and the substance in Hinkley’s drinking water. In fact, there were fewer cancer cases found in Hinkley than expected.

According to the EPA, hexavalent chromium can be found in drinking water from both natural and manmade sources. In 2017, the state of California refused to accept Brockovich’s claims and decided against implementing a rule that would have placed a ceiling on hexavalent chromium in drinking water at 10 parts per billion.

Meanwhile, back in Michigan, state police said the green substance on I-696 in Oakland County was identified as hexavalent chromium, but official testing results have not yet been returned. Officials said the substance is coming from the basement of the now-condemned Electro-Plating Services on 10 Mile Road, which was the site of a massive cleanup in 2016 due to improperly stored hazardous waste.

The business had been cited by state officials for lack of compliance for nearly two decades before it was finally permanently closed after the complaints received in 2016. Inspectors previously found an estimated 5,000 containers of hazardous waste and materials that were improperly stored, unlabeled, open and corroded or in very poor condition at Electro-Plating Services.

Hexavalent chromium, also known as chromium-6, is often produced during industrial processes. The chemical is known to cause cancer and targets the respiratory system, kidneys, liver, skin and eyes, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. However, it still remains unclear whether drinking water with traces of the substance will cause cancer. If you look around the internet, you find a plethora of articles and medical journals debating this issue. Again, what we know for sure is that there wasn’t an increase in cancer cases in Hinkley.

Samples of the substance on I-696 were taken by the EPA for testing. The results are expected this week. Soil samples also were taken for testing. Those results also are expected this week.

Michigan officials say there is no danger to the public, and it is not impacting air or drinking water quality.

Read more: Here’s everything we know about the green substance found seeping onto I-696


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