(The Center Square) – A Michigan Department of Natural Resources investigation not only netted the culprit responsible for dumping 47 million gallons of pollutants into the Flint sewer system, but it collected a national award, too.
DNR Law Enforcement Division Chief Gary Hagler and Lt. Vence Woods accepted the 2021 Chief David Cameron Leadership in Environmental Crimes Award from the International Association of Chiefs of Police. The award was announced Monday during the association’s annual meeting, which was held virtually this year.
The award stemmed from the DNR Law Enforcement Division investigation, which revealed the Flint-based company Oil Chem had illegally dumped hazardous waste over an eight-year period into the city of Flint’s sewer system. Eventually that waste – leachate, or rainwater containing toxic waste chemicals or constituents, from Michigan landfills – wound up in the Flint River downstream from where the municipality took its drinking water from 2014 to 2015.
DNR Detective Jan Erlandson handled the 2015 Oil Chem complaint from a Flint Wastewater Treatment Plant employee. Erlandson’s investigation uncovered Oil Chem’s role in the wastewater dumping, discovering company owner Robert Massey had authorized Oil Chem’s illegal acceptance of landfill leachate from 2007 to 2015.
Oil Chem’s permit, issued by the city of Flint under the U.S. Clean Water Act, did not permit the company to accept leachates or discharge polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) wastes. However, the company took waste from eight different landfills, including a Saginaw County dump that contained PCBs.
“The waste water treatment facility was not equipped to treat PCB waste, nor was it aware of its presence,” Woods told The Center Square. “PCBs have been shown to cause a variety of adverse health effects, notably cancer in animals. Noncancer effects include impacts to the nervous, immune, reproductive and endocrine systems, among others.”
As a result of Erlandson’s investigation, Oil Chem and Massey were charged with violating laws prohibiting discharging on-site wastewater into state waters and disposal of liquid industrial byproducts. Massey was sentenced to 12 months in federal prison by the U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Michigan. Oil Chem was fined $250,000, which was payable to the city of Flint. Additionally, the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy revoked Oil Chem’s waste hauler license.
Erlandson retired this year, after serving as a member of the DNR Law Enforcement Division from 2000 to 2021.
“The Michigan DNR Environmental Investigations Section would like to thank the EPA Criminal Investigations Division, the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy’s Materials Management and Water Resource divisions and Michigan State Police for their assistance with this criminal investigation,” Woods said in a statement.