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01 Apr 12 Citizens demand clean up of Chrome Craft plant

State officials agree to begin inquiry, gather soil samples

By Mike Sandula
The Michigan Citizen

HIGHLAND PARK At the urging of the community, state officials have agreed to test the soil and water at the premises of a now idle plant in Highland Park.

At a March 22 meeting held at Greater St. Matthews Baptist Church in Highland Park, residents and former employees of Chrome Craft plant spoke out about toxic chemicals including hexavalent chromium, a known carcinogen they say were dumped behind the plant and that have led to increased rates in cancer to those exposed to the chemicals.

We were there basically to demand that [the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality] take action and test the environmental equality of the soil, said Rev. D. Alexander Bullock, the churchs pastor. MDEQ representatives who attended the meeting said theyd begin gathering testimony and sampling the soil and water at the plant and the surrounding areas.

The 75,000-square-feet Chrome Craft plant, 318 Midland St., Highland Park, operated from 1970 to 2009. It produced chrome- and nickel-plated bed rails, front and rear bumpers and grilles for automobiles. The plant is owned by Flex-N-Gate corporation, a $3 billion global auto parts supplier with offices in Urbana, Ill. The company is owned by businessman Shahid Kahn, who recently purchased the Jacksonville Jaguars football team for $760 million. According to the Detroit Free Press, the plant racked up 39 violations of city, state and federal laws over a 20-year period.

Flex-N-Gate companies, including Chrome Craft, satisfy or exceed all local, state and federal regulatory requirements including environment, health, safety and protection of property and the public. Chrome Craft will fully address all Michigan Department of Environmental Quality queries, said a source close to the company in a statement.

According to Bullock, about 300 people attended the March 22 meeting, including Highland Park Mayor DeAndre Windom and UAW members.

If soil samples prove positive, Bullock said, We expect Chrome Craft to pay for remediation, for clean up. If not, we will stand by the report but were inclined to believe the results will be in our favor.

The only hitch is to see if there is a funding issue, says Bullock, adding they are prepared to go to Lansing to request funds for testing if necessary.

The plant is currently idle which, Bullock notes, means Chrome Craft did not have to conduct an exit survey and walkthrough because it wasnt technically being closed.

The community has been demanding remediation for several months, starting with a letter sent to MDEQ requesting their attention. Bullock says theyve since amped up protests to spread the word.

Glennie Dash, 38, worked at the plant from 1998 to 2005. During his time there, he worked several jobs, including tank maintenance. It was that job that exposed him to chemicals, particularly nickel, which he later found out he was severely allergic to.

Even with gloves on I cant touch [nickel] I look like Shrek, Dash told the Michigan Citizen. After consulting several doctors, he was put on steroids, which he said made him balloon from a size 36 to a 46 in one year.

With his condition, Dash was only able to work a few hours at a time. Eventually he was let go. In 2005, he sued Chrome Craft, who settled two years later for $5,000. Dash still has family members several of whom have been diagnosed with breast cancer that reside directly behind the plant.

St. Matthews will host a session April 4 for MDEQ to meet with and get testimony from area residents and former Chrome Craft employees. Dash said he will be there to ask that Chrome Craft pay out settlements to those who were aversely affected by the chemicals, particularly those who dont have medical insurance.

They should be justified in some type of way, Dash said.

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