Burgess-Norton Groundwater Contamination Heading Toward Ryerson Creek, Investigation Continues

Residents of Muskegon’s Angell, Sheldon Park and Steele Neighborhoods may soon hear new details about deep groundwater pollution coming from a nearby vacant industrial plant.

Until new details appear, residents now have a website to read up on what’s been found so far.

The Burgess-Norton plant formerly operated at 660 Nims Avenue, near Oakwood and Restlawn cemeteries. 

Burgess-Norton’s attorney spoke at Muskegon’s city commission meeting Tuesday meeting about the corporation’s plans for continued testing in the summer.  He stated that the company would do both soil and groundwater testing, only on city land and right of ways, as approved by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.

The attorney also played down the effect on public health at Tuesday’s meeting, saying that since the city gets its water from Lake Michigan, no one should be drinking the contaminated water. He did, however, repeatedly express concern with the plume of pollution possibly reaching Ryerson Creek in the future.

No plan for cleaning up the contamination exists at this time. Burgess-Norton must still discover how far the plume has traveled in its general north-northwest direction, as well as how far it has spread out to the east and west.

Burgess-Norton did not communicate a time when investigation would be completed.

By state law, if the pollution continues to creep, more property owners will need to be notified.  Burgess-Norton’s attorney told city residents to visit a website specifically set up to keep the public informed of the investigation: nimsreport.com. The site contains Q&A style information, a report of findings thus far as well as contact information for several important groups involved in the situation.

One city resident, Anna EldenBrady, spoke to the topic at Monday’s meeting. She currently lives on Spring Street and holds a well permit from the county because “health reasons” keep her from drinking city water. Her well only goes down 25 feet, but she fears that other wells, especially for irrigation, may be reaching the contaminated water.

EldenBrady, wife of commission candidate Joshua EldenBrady, also expressed that she was not well informed of the issue until recently, even though it may affect her.

The long history of the contamination traces back to 1969, when the Burgess-Norton Manufacturing Company opened a plant in Muskegon to make automobile and other metal parts.  As part of their operations they used trichloroethylene (TCE), a degreasing solvent that is toxic to humans, believed to cause heart and neurological issues, as well as cancer. It was not clear to those present at Tuesday’s meetings what health effects may be arising due to the TCE contamination.

Burgess-Norton would dispose of their TCE in a pool that was used until 1975 when it was removed from the property.

State government involvement did not come until over a quarter century after the pool was removed.  On January 24, 2001, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources sent a letter of warning to the company concerning the known pollution issue.

Not much action was taken against the company before they closed their doors in 2003, only six years after building a new plant at 1485 Getty Street using city tax abatements.

A remediation plan to clear out the known contamination was created in 2005, and was completed by Melching, Inc. by the end of 2007.

On February 13, 2009, 11 residents on the south side of Louis Street were notified by the city stating that the contamination from the original Burgess-Norton plant was migrating into their groundwater.   55 more notices were sent on January 20, 2010, which specifically stated that TCE was found at depths of 30 and 90 feet below the surface.  On December 30, 2011, more notices were sent northwest from Hill Street.  In the path of the creeping plume of contamination: Ryerson Creek, which drains into Muskegon Lake.

Andrew Trzaska

103.7 “The Beat” – local government beat reporter and political analyst