Traverse City Record-Eagle

Archive: Sunday

August 11, 2013

Whose pollution is it?

TRAVERSE CITY — Groundwater that flows beneath Traverse City's Warehouse District tested positive for cyanide and a host of other toxins over the last 15 years, including lead and arsenic, a Record-Eagle inquiry shows.

Sporadic tests over the years document the presence of carcinogens in the downtown Traverse City aquifer, based on documents obtained by the Record-Eagle through a Freedom of Information Act request.

Test results add to some experts' concerns about Grand Traverse Bay's aquatic health, given high levels of cyanide found this summer in the same aquifer during construction of the Hotel Indigo property along Grandview Parkway.

"People care about the health of the bay," said Chris Grobbel, an environmental consultant who reviewed records of groundwater tests. "We spend a lot of money locally to study it and protect it. Now, through the process of redevelopment, we are dealing with the industrial legacy of Traverse City.

"We need to make sure we don’t kill the goose that laid the golden egg for tourism," Grobbel said.

Grobbel and others suspect the aquifer was contaminated by an old coal gasification plant, the Traverse City Gas Co., which operated for decades across the street from the Hotel Indigo property at 301 W. Grandview.

The Record-Eagle obtained groundwater testing results for the last 15 years that were performed by a contractor hired by the current property owner, Michigan Gas Utilities Corporation.

In 1998, 2001 and 2002, groundwater samples showed levels of Benzene in the water above the residential drinking water criteria. Water draws tested positive for arsenic in 2003 and 2005. Cadmium was present in levels above the residential drinking water standard in 2003. Positive tests above the residential drinking water standards occurred in 2001, 2003, 2007 and 2010.

Similar positive tests have occurred for benzoanthracene, benzopyrene, benzofluoranthene, benzoperylene, chrystene, and indenopyrene. Elevated levels of cyanide were found in the aquifer in tests performed in the last six weeks, causing a delay in the much anticipated Hotel Indigo property.

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