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E-M:/ Sierra Club News Advisory: Volunteers to Monitor Pine River in Gratiot County

News Advisory from the Sierra Club


For Immediate Release                                                              Contact: 

Friday, April 26, 2002                                                                 Rita Jack  Sierra Club Mackinac Chapter





Water Sentinel Volunteers Will Search for Aquatic Life in Gratiot County’s Toxic Contaminated Pine River


Lansing, MI:  On Saturday April 27, volunteers in Michigan’s Sierra Club Water Sentinels project will assess habitat and biologic conditions in the waters of Horse Creek and the Pine River in Alma and St. Louis in Gratiot County.  Fifteen trained volunteers will work to assess conditions at 8 sites along the Pine River and Horse Creek.  They will collect data on habitat conditions, and collect and count benthic macroinvertebrates.  The kind and number of organisms found can be used to assign a “health score” to the site.  The 8 sites are located on the Pine River and Horse Creek in Alma and St. Louis in Michigan’s Gratiot County.  Most are accessible by land   


The Pine River is part of the Saginaw Bay watershed and is a major source of both DDT and PBBs to the waters of Saginaw Bay and Lake Huron, according to the Lake Huron Pollutants of Concern list in the Lake Huron Initiative.  Other contaminants found in the Pine River include petroleum hydrocarbons, lead, chromium and semi-volatile organic compounds.  There is a no-consumption fish advisory on the Pine River for the DDT and PBBs, a designation that is unique in the nation.   For decades, Horse Creek was used by the Total Petroleum, Inc. oil refinery to discharge hundreds of thousands of gallons of toxic petroleum hydrocarbon wastes including volatile and semi-volatile organic compounds and heavy metals directly to the Pine River.


The Sierra Club Water Sentinels decided to tackle the Pine River petroleum hydrocarbon pollution problems after reading about a remark by Michigan Department of Environmental Quality Director Russ Harding that though it seemed likely the refinery did pollute the river there was no supporting data proving it.    The Water Sentinels Volunteers hope to gather new data that will help determine what kind of impact the refinery has had on the Pine River ecosystem.  If the data warrants, the goal is to convince the MDEQ Director that the refinery has had and continues to have a negative impact on the watershed and that further actions need to be taken to clean it up.


Today, the bottom of Horse Creek is several feet deep in petroleum hydrocarbon product, as are many locations in the Pine River.  Wherever the oily wastes have covered the substrate, life forms such as aquatic insects and vegetation have been choked off.  Aquatic insects and other benthic organisms form the base of the aquatic food-chain.  Members of the Technical Advisory Committee of the Pine River Superfund Citizen’s Task Force also believe that petroleum hydrocarbons act as a solvent on DDT, and can release more of its poison to the water column.  There are high concentrations of DDT in sediments downstream from the refineries in St. Louis, from the Velsicol Chemical company that is now a Superfund site.  The Environmental Protection Agency expects the cleanup to be completed by 2004.  However, it may be many decades before fish from the Pine River are considered safe for human consumption. 


Members of the Press are invited to observe the Water Sentinel Volunteers.  There will be photo opportunities, and opportunities to speak to local experts about the contamination in the Pine River. 








Rita Jack

Water Sentinels Project Director

Mackinac Chapter Sierra Club

tel:  517-484-2372



"Speak out - even if your voice shakes."