BAY HARBOR -- The Health Department of Northwest Michigan announced Wednesday that it has lifted the last in a series of health advisories relating to shoreline contamination along the Bay Harbor corridor.
Dangerous pH levels -- similar to those of a strong bleach solution -- first prompted the department to issue a public health advisory when the problem was detected in waters along the Bay Harbor shoreline in 2004. In subsequent years, five more health advisories were issued for areas at East Park and the Bay Harbor development.
But this fall, following about eight years of intensive cleanup and monitoring, the health department has lifted Bay Harbor's last remaining health advisory.
"Our removal of the final advisory is a major milestone in a long, difficult journey," said Scott Kendzierski, the health department's director of environmental health.
The high alkaline levels were the result of leachate from cement kiln dust (CKD), left behind when the former Penn Dixie cement plant ceased operations at the site in the late 1980s. CMS Land Company, a subsidiary of CMS Energy and a partner in the redevelopment of the old plant site in the 1990s, accepted responsibility for the environmental cleanup. The company has been working with the Environmental Protection Agency and Michigan Department of Environmental Quality ever since a pre-treatment plant failure caused leachate to enter Little Traverse Bay in 2004.
Though the final advisory has been lifted, Kendzierski added that the leachate continues to be collected, and that other engineering controls have been installed to prevent leachate venting into Little Traverse Bay. "Ongoing monitoring is critical to assuring the effectiveness of capture, and the safety of public waters," he said.
Michigan Department of Community Health toxicologist Linda Dykema said she is "very pleased that monitored pH values in Bay Harbor continue to remain safe for human exposure."
"The Michigan Department of Community Health supports the decision of the Health Department of Northwest Michigan to lift the remaining public health advisory for Bay Harbor," she added.
A system of collection lines that capture the leachate in affected shoreline areas is a key part of CMS's effort to control the seepage. To date, CMS has used a couple of methods for disposing of this captured seepage.
Through the cleanup's early years, seepage was treated as needed to reduce its pH to an acceptable level, and then trucked to off-site disposal points -- such as an injection well near Johannesburg. More recently, CMS has begun processing the liquid at on-site plants that treat it more extensively before it's discharged into Little Traverse Bay. Along with pH, these treatment processes also address another environmental health concern -- toxic metals in the leachate.
CMS area manager Tim Petrosky said a plant near Resort Township's East Park just east of Bay Harbor typically processes all of the seepage collected in that area. Farther west, a similar plant now handles part of the shoreline seepage from Bay Harbor proper, although another portion continues to be trucked off site.
"We are currently treating 50-60 percent of the water we collect," Petrosky said. "We're still fine tuning the process at the plant in order for us to meet 100 percent discharge."
When East Park reopened to the public in 2009 following environmental work there, "health advice" signs were posted there alerting visitors that contact with the water could cause skin or eye irritation, and recommending that people rinse with tap water after making contact with the lake.
These signs are precautionary, and do not impose the access restrictions associated with a full health advisory. Although water testing indicated acceptable pH levels when the park reopened, Kendzierski said these signs were put in place until conditions could be reviewed over a longer period of time.
He added today, Wednesday, that the health department will contact township officials about removing the signs.
"Based on the analytical data, they are no longer needed," he said.
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The last in a series of health advisories restricting access to Bay Harbor’s shoreline — which covered the “West CKD” and Pine Court areas near Bay Harbor’s golf courses — recently were lifted. In the past, health advisories affected as much as 6,900 feet of the resort corridor’s shoreline at one time.