The Chemours Environmental Impact Committee (CEIC, pronounced “seek”) of White River Township, in West Michigan, has been advocating for the long-overdue cleanup of the sources of groundwater and soil contamination on the DuPont property, now owned by Chemours. This contaminated property connects with both White Lake and Lake Michigan.
FLOW supports the Committee’s position that all navigable water bodies in the state must be protected and/or restored to meet water quality standards. There is no room for “writing off” such waters as lifeless or not usable.
For more information, contact the Committee by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook at Make It Right Chemours.
Make It Right, Michigan: Restore Sadony Bayou
The vista from his 80-acre compound was filled with a creek-fed bayou whose waters meandered southerly for nearly a mile to White Lake, and eventually Lake Michigan.
Called the “Valley of the Pines,” the estate was home for Joseph Sadony, an inventor, hobby scientist, and author. From the time he moved there in 1906 and through the following five-plus decades, the wetland that evolved into the name of Sadony Bayou supported flora and fauna that thrived in and around the water.
Sadony wasn’t the only person who enjoyed this miniature Eden. Visitors joined residents to try for pike, largemouth bass, panfish and perch from boats and canoes, or to bobber-fish from the Old Channel Trail bridge. Turtles abounded as did garter snakes, along with the typical assortment of warm-blooded creatures that call Michigan home. The bayou was a mecca for bullfrogs whose nighttime croakings serenaded many nearby residents to sleep.
In 1960, DuPont began manufacturing acetylene and neoprene and then Freon at its nearby manufacturing plant in White River Township. The process resulted in the use of a series of unlined landfills in the site’s sandy soil to dump byproducts, including some hazardous wastes. There were some spills at other locations. In 1961, a nearby resident’s well exhibited taste and odor problems. Groundwater studies confirmed contamination.
Today, six decades later, if Sadony Bayou isn’t virtually dead, it is a shadow of its former self. No longer an historic spawning bed for pike. Rare are the sightings of eagles, hawks, herons, and swans. The lessened drone of insects reflects a wildlife habitat that has taken a hard punch to the stomach. People don’t interact with its natural environment as they once did.
One of Dupont’s unlined landfills was located 250 feet uphill from Pierson Creek, whose origins from spring-fed tributaries are about five miles north of the bayou. In 1965, a berm along the western edge of the landfill failed, releasing liquid wastes into Pierson Creek. Recalled a witnessing resident: “What looked like a lava flow 40 feet wide and one foot deep flowed down the hill and into the creek.”
Two years later, wastewater from DuPont’s disposal pipe was diverted into the creek for a short time, causing the death of thousands of fish. Attempts to restock the waters with prized game fish had the same results as the leak – dead fish. Some residents remark that after the fish kill, the bayou has never returned to what it used to be.”
In the late 1960s and 70s, the state took surface water and sediment samplings. Several contaminants, including heavy metals found in the bayou near the Old Channel bridge, exceeded water quality criteria. For other chemicals, there was mention of data quality concerns.
Why, since then and into 2023, has there been no follow-up to gather reliable data from the bayou?
DuPont’s wastes aren’t the only problem. Accumulated sediments in the bayou can raise water temperature to levels too high for certain fish and their food sources. Fertilizer runoff from farms to the north can lead to weeds and depletion of oxygen in the water, harming fish and other wildlife. Lack of flow can result in less capacity to dilute and degrade wastes.
This navigable waterway is connected to the Great Lakes system – the public has a right to use it. In its current condition, it is unsuitable for fish, bullfrogs, or humans in kayaks. Why has the gradual degradation of the bayou continued unchecked?
In 2014, the White Lake Public Advisory Council, after 22 years overseeing the cleanup of White Lake, expressed concerns about White Lake being removed from the Great Lakes Area of Concern list despite the ongoing groundwater contamination at the Dupont site. Federal and state authorities assured citizens the state agency responsible for the cleanup of that site would “continue its oversight of activities at the facility to assure that the corrective-action process progresses forward.”
In 2015 DuPont spun off the site to Chemours – the company now responsible for the cleanup. The Hazardous Waste Section of Michigan’s Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE), continues its oversight activities at the Chemours site. And still no cleanup.
Our local Chemours Environmental Impact Committee (CEIC) was formed in 2018 to keep track.
This all-volunteer group has been trying since 2019 to get the Hazardous Waste Section to authorize and/or conduct testing of sediments and the fish in Sadony Bayou. The state’s Water Resources Division did try to test the fish in 2021. Problem was, it couldn’t find many fish to test. Only a pumpkinseed sunfish.
EGLE has many divisions with expertise in maintaining the health of the waters of the state. An appropriate division of EGLE needs to take the lead on the restoration of this waterway, including thorough assessment to develop a protocol for testing of the sediments so that safe restoration may proceed. CEIC and the local citizenry need a qualified partner from one or more of EGLE’s water-quality divisions to oversee the return of Sadony Bayou to a vibrant, healthy ecosystem.
Nearby residents recall 60 years ago – kids in canoes chasing turtles, the saga of the big one that got away, the baying of bullfrogs, people in kayaks taking in the essence of nature and its creatures along the creek, netting to see what a young pike looks like before it heads out into White Lake.
Will we see that day again?
To borrow an epic-creating piece of dialogue from Kevin Costner’s “Field of Dreams:” “If you restore it, they will come.” Even after 60 years.
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For more information, contact CEIC at email@example.com, or Marisa McGlue at (517) 881-2421
Submitted by members of the Chemours Environmental Impact Committee: Laura Anderson, George Dufresne, Lisa Kiel, Marisa McGlue, Barb Reese, Dave Roodvoets, Jim Rose, Claire Schlaff, Tom Thinnes, Jan Vanderwerp, Sara Warber, and Steve Welter