HONOR — Oil field brine laced with toxic petroleum byproducts recently were sprayed on some Benzie County roads, tests showed, an application contracted by the Benzie County Road Commission as a means to control dust on dirt roads.
Residents who complained about the spray's odor now worry about health hazards and what the chemicals might do to their water wells and the nearby Platte River. Tests indicated the presence of toxins, and a state agency is investigating.
Bryan Black was the first to question the origin of liquid sprayed by a tanker on Douglas Road near his Lake Ann farm on June 4. Black, who's owned the farm for about two years, said neighbors told him the liquid was just brine, a saltwater solution used to control dust.
But Black spent years working in oil refineries and said the stuff sprayed on his road didn't smell like brine.
"If I had smelled that in a refinery I used to work in, they would have cleared us out for fear of explosion," Black said. "When it rained later that day it foamed on the road. This isn't brine."
Oil field brine is a byproduct of oil and gas drilling, and about a dozen counties in Michigan that are permitted by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality use it as a cheap dust control agent. The state attempted to phase out the use of oil field brine in the 1980s over concerns about public health and the potential for contamination of ground and surface waters, but cost-conscious county road commissions held firm.
The brine is supposed to come from approved wells with annual testing to ensure contaminants are within certain limits state officials consider safe.
Black's wife complained in a telephone call to the road commission and Black discussed it with his neighbor, John Nuskie, chairman of the Benzie Road Commission board.