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Detroit Revitalization Projects Built on Tainted Land

August 12, 1991

DETROIT (AP) _ Virtually every project in a major riverfront redevelopment effort sits on land showing signs of toxic waste, and that could spell big problems in reviving Detroit’s crumbling downtown, a newspaper reported Monday.

As many as 10 projects were built on or are targeted for land possibly contaminated by toxic industrial wastes, The Detroit News reported.

The redevelopment area stretching east from downtown along the river includes apartment and condominium complexes, office buildings, stores, restaurants, parks and marinas.

The contaminants include lead, arsenic, cyanide, mercury, PCBs, cadmium, barium and chromium, legacies of nearly a century of industry along the Detroit River, environmental officials said.

If developers or landowners discover hazardous wastes, they are required by state law to notify the state Department of Natural Resources. And any contaminated soil is to be moved to a licensed landfill. But developers are not required to look for toxic chemicals.

Planners had hoped the major revitalization effort along the river would help the city rebound from a 20-year decline that sent businesses and residents fleeing to the suburbs.

Mayor Coleman Young said Monday he had seen no official word of any riverfront contamination. He accused the newspaper of making an effort to close down the riverfront, and said riverfront contamination was a nationwide problem facing every downtown built with an industrial base along water.

Still, he acknowledged that findings of polluted land on the riverfront could spell disaster in Detroit.

″If taken literally, it will bring development, past and present, in the city of Detroit to a screeching halt,″ Young said.

Department of Natural Resources officials say the toxic chemicals most likely came from unregulated dumping decades ago by now-defunct industries and from the use of waste as fill.

While contaminated soil is supposed to be moved, workers at the $60 million Porterfield Wilson Marina Village were allowed to entomb a large pit containing lead at more than 66 times the federal safety level.

Environmental officials say the clay-lined plastic containment cell is safe and well-monitored for leaks.

At city-owned St. Aubin Marina, The News said, tests also revealed dangerously high levels of lead. But the tainted dirt was trucked to another development site and piled to form a hill.

The News said the city did not tell the state it was moving the toxic soil until the transfer was under way. The state then ordered the site covered with 6 inches of protective soil.

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