Hazardous waste deep injection wells might reopen

May 17, 2011

It's been five years since the deep injection wells in Romulus, Michigan stopped pumping hazardous waste close to a mile underground.

Now those wells might reopen. From the Detroit News:

The two wells located off Citrin Drive have drawn opposition in the Romulus area long before original owner Environmental Disposal Systems (EDS) began accepting waste there in 2005. Operations were halted when the company ran into financial problems and state inspectors discovered leaks in the above ground apparatus. There was no lasting environmental damage, but the findings fueled opposition from local residents...

This week, EPA officials appear ready to grant tentative approval for Environmental Geo-Technologies' underground injection control permit, which would bring the reopening of the site one step closer to reality.

The deep injection wells in Romulus have been a controversial subject for decades.

Before they opened, the proposed injection wells were the subject of an opinion piece in 2001 from Suzanne Elston of the Environment Report (then, the Great Lakes Radio Consortium):

There have been meaningful objections, and not just from the residents. Some state officials aren't too happy either. Last year, the State Review Board cited a whole pile of reasons that the facility shouldn't be approved...Those concerns didn't stop the Department of Environmental Quality. The official that I spoke to said that they had already made their decision to approve the well.

Now, the EPA is again looking to approve the operation of the deep injection wells.

EPA officials are taking public comments on the permit application through June 29.

They're also holding a public hearing tonight in Romulus (7 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Tuesday, May 17 at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, 8000 Merriman Road, Romulus).

State Representative Kurt Heise (R) said he first heard about the potential for the wells to re-open while he was running for office last year. Heise is the former Director of the Wayne County Department of Environmental Quality.

The Romulus Roman reported that Heise compared the wells to a bad horror movie:

"We worked as Republicans and Democrats to try to shut this down, and it seems like every time we win, the State of Michigan keeps bringing it back. The deep injection well is like a bad horror movie," Heise added. "It has come back to life more times than Freddy Krueger."

State Senator Hoon-Yung Hopgood (D), State Representative Douglas Geiss (D), and Wayne County commissioner Raymond Basham (D) wrote that families in the community have opposed the wells for more than two decades in an editorial in today's Detroit News:

Despite their opposition, repeated violations by the prior wells' operator, including several site security issues and release of hazardous substances which ultimately ended in a revocation action of those permits by the state and federal agencies, the saga of the Romulus waste wells is still not over. Now, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality are once again considering granting permits to reopen the wells to a new operator — one with no experience in the hazardous waste industry.

For our families and law-abiding citizens, this is an outrage.

The U.S. EPA says permits for disposal of hazardous waste on land has to meet one of two guidelines:

  • the waste has been treated to become nonhazardous
  • the disposer can demonstrate that the waste will remain within a defined area for a period of 10,000 years, using computer simulations based on actual measurements of conditions at the site. (This is the demonstration of no migration.)

Sites for deep injection have to have two geologic qualities:

  1. have thick layer of permeable rocks, such as porous sandstones or porous carbonates into which most liquid wastes are actually injected (called the injection zone)
  2. overlain by impermeable rocks, such as shales, nonporous carbonates, salt or anyhdrite to prevent upward movement (act as a confining zone).

These geologic features exist in the Michigan basin, according to the EPA.