A company owned by the family of shipping magnate Manuel “Matty” Moroun is alleged to have violated state law and federal standards in how its contractors handled asbestos-containing materials during ongoing demolition at the former McLouth Steel site in Trenton, according to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.
The DEQ on Tuesday issued a Notice of Violation to Crown Enterprises Inc., a Warren-based development firm run by Matthew Moroun, son of Matty Moroun, and to 21st Century Salvage/Next Generation Environmental Inc., an Ypsilanti-based contractor doing demolition work at the now Crown-owned McLouth Steel site off West Jefferson Avenue.
The long-standing, chronically problematic brownfield site in Trenton is being eyed by the Morouns for a new transportation facility that would fit into the family’s vast shipping and trucking empire. Among the family’s most prominent holdings are the Ambassador Bridge and, until its sale in June 2018 to Ford Motor Co. for a new headquarters, the Michigan Central Station.
The DEQ’s Air Quality Division, in a Jan. 11 inspection, found multiple locations at the demolition site where asbestos-containing products were “friable,” or in a dry, crumbling condition, in violation of both the federal National Emission Standard for Asbestos and the state Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act, according to the agency’s violation notice.
DEQ Air Quality Division analyst Jeremiah Brown, in the violation notice, notes that when he arrived at the site, he saw contractors removing galvanized metal siding from a mill building on the property, covered in an asbestos product, without wetting the material as required during abatement, causing it to
flake and crumble. A dumpster was also full of friable asbestos, he stated.
Similar problems were found at a former maintenance and spare parts warehouse on the property.
Breathing asbestos particles, particularly over a long term, can lead to lung cancer and other lung disorders, according to the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.
The DEQ is requiring the companies to respond by Feb. 12 with:
- An explanation of the causes and duration of the violations
- Whether the violations are ongoing
- A summary of the actions that have been taken and are proposed to correct the violations
- The date by which the actions will take place
- What steps are being taken to prevent a recurrence
Michael Samhat, president of Crown Enterprises, told the Free Press that it is not doing the work on-site at McLouth itself, but through contractors including 21st Century/Next Generation.
“We’re very confident in the vendors we picked — and that was done with a lot of consultation with the EPA and the DEQ,” he said. “We’ve worked with this company quite a bit. But this is a large, very complicated site, with many different conditions.”
The contractor, working with Crown’s on-site consultants, will craft a response to the DEQ, Samhat said.
“If it’s accurate, it’s going to get resolved,” he said. “If it’s not accurate, we’re going to try to get the differences (between the companies and regulators) resolved.”
A message left with 21st Century/Next Generation’s offices was not returned Thursday.
“As the McLouth Steel project proceeds, ensuring Downriver residents are safe will always be our No. 1 priority,” said U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn,
“Although these reports of increased asbestos levels are deeply disturbing, the system worked — MDEQ was on-site even though the EPA is shut down. As soon as asbestos was found, immediate steps were taken to correct the problem and a violation notice was issued.”
State Rep. Darrin Camilleri, D-Brownstown Township, said a proper cleanup of the McLouth site “is critical to the public health of our community.”
“While it’s deeply frustrating that problems are arising so quickly in this demolition process, I’m glad the MDEQ inspected the site and sounded the alarm,” he said. “I will continue to monitor the situation closely to ensure that these companies are held liable for any damages to our community.”
Michigan asbestos laws are clear, said state Rep. Stephanie Chang, D-Detroit.
“There’s no excuse to expose employees and Downriver residents to this toxic substance, not to mention potentially contaminating the Detroit River,” she said.
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