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Dirt potentially contaminated with uranium spills into Detroit River

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The site leased by Detroit Bulk Storage partially collapsed into the river over the Thanksgiving weekend

A long red and black ship in the middle of a wide river. A blue bridge can be seen in the distance.
A cargo ship in the Detroit River.
Photo by Michelle Gerard

A property on the riverbank once called a forgotten nuclear “waste land” by the Wall Street Journal has partially collapsed into the Detroit River, the Windsor Star first reported. For decades, the site near the historic Fort Wayne in Southwest Detroit has been marked as contaminated with uranium by both the U.S. Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Agency.

Formerly the Revere Copper and Brass factory, in the 1940s and 50s it extruded uranium rods for the Manhattan Project, the World War II–era research and development effort to build an atomic bomb.

Detroit Bulk Storage currently leases the site where it stores aggregate dirt piles. The spill apparently took place over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, and regulatory agencies were not aware of the issue until earlier this week.

“Any time the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy learns of incidents such as the one at the Revere Copper site in Detroit, staff is greatly concerned about the impact on water quality and the public,” Nick Assendelft, spokesman for the state’s environmental regulatory agency, told the Windsor Star.

“EGLE staff will evaluate what is known about the conditions onsite, look into whether there are any environmental concerns, and determine what, if any, obligations the property’s owner has, before we decide our next steps.”

Detroit Bulk Storage declined to comment.

Responsibility for the site’s cleanup has been a controversial matter for decades. Closed in the 1980s, the U.S. Department of Energy did a remediation study soon after. Padraic Benson, spokesman for the department’s office of legacy management, told the Windsor Star that the study determined “there was little or no potential for radiological exposure.”

But other environmental experts were concerned about the potential mixture of chemicals present in the soil and river sediment that might be distrubed by the spill. Crain’s Detroit Business wrote that in the late 1980s “the EPA removed barrels and drums [from the site], as well as the organic chlorine compound polychlorinated biphenyls, more commonly known as PCBs.”

Detroit Bulk Storage has previously been cited by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality for inadequately storing toxic pet coke from the nearby Marathon Petroleum refinery.

Historic Fort Wayne

650 S Livernois Avenue, Detroit, MI 48209

Detroit River

, Detroit, MI 48226

Historic Fort Wayne

6325 West Jefferson Avenue, , MI 48209 Visit Website