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Posted on Tue, Jul 20, 2010 : 4:33 p.m.

Chemical discovered in Huron River near University of Michigan

By Tina Reed


A look at the chemical discovered on the Huron River as photographed and submitted by Ann Arbor resident Kai Petaninen.

Courtesy photo | Kai Petaninen

A chemical substance was discovered floating on the Huron River near the University of Michigan's Nichols Arboretum on Monday evening, officials said.

A passerby noticed a sheen on the surface of the water around 7:30 p.m. and immediately reported it to the Ann Arbor Fire Department, said Ann Arbor Water Quality Manager Molly Wade.

U-M's Occupational Safety and Environmental Health and police also responded to the scene.

According to reports, the discharge was coming from some sort of manhole near the river.

The discharge was stopped, and booms were placed in the water to collect as much of the chemical out of the river as possible before heavy rains came through Monday evening.

Samples were taken to determine what the substance was, but results have not yet been returned, said Diane Brown, spokeswoman for the U-M Department of Public Safety.

Tina Reed covers health and the environment for You can reach her at, call her at 734-623-2535 or find her on Twitter @TreedinAA.


Kai Petainen

Tue, Aug 31, 2010 : 3:21 p.m.

so milan has a river spill in the saline river, but they notify the public. oh... and the Feds investigate. wow.... I don't remember hearing that in Ann Arbor... amazing. what makes our city so different from others, that our river can get polluted and no one cares? ann arbor is so green, that when we pollute, even that is green.


Fri, Aug 27, 2010 : 9:33 a.m.

"A bit of clarification on the Ann Arbor petroleum spill. 5 weeks after the spill, I finally got this written confirmation from the City of Ann Arbor. Keep in mind that I witnessed petroleum (as it had an ODOR), that covered the width of the river from my vantage point for at least 2 hours. Is that an (evident)environmental hazard? Well... no... according to Ann Arbor. Read below. "No entity has found any significant impact or known cause for the release of what has been clearly been identified (by more than one source) as a petroleum based product." "I consider this matter closed as a minor spill from an unknown source with no evident environmental impact" -- from Emergency Management, City of Ann Arbor" This is doublespeak. No "evident" environmental impact? What about all the people using the river that day for recreation and in the days that followed? Unknown source? Yeah, right. This spill likely originated from the UM Hospital. The spill started at that point in the river. Maybe tough to prove, but the case should not be closed. Where does the drinking water for A2 originate? Isn't it the Huron River? Thank you for the excellent website:

Kai Petainen

Thu, Aug 26, 2010 : 8:39 a.m.

A bit of clarification on the Ann Arbor petroleum spill. 5 weeks after the spill, I finally got this written confirmation from the City of Ann Arbor. Keep in mind that I witnessed petroleum (as it had an ODOR), that covered the width of the river from my vantage point for at least 2 hours. Is that an (evident)environmental hazard? Well... no... according to Ann Arbor. Read below. "No entity has found any significant impact or known cause for the release of what has been clearly been identified (by more than one source) as a petroleum based product." "I consider this matter closed as a minor spill from an unknown source with no evident environmental impact" -- from Emergency Management, City of Ann Arbor

Kai Petainen

Tue, Aug 24, 2010 : 1:59 a.m.

some gas spilled into belle river... fascinating... i wonder if the DNR gave them a lecture as to how common these petroleum spills are and how misinformed we the public are as to how common it is for the average resident to dump petroleum into the storm drains? the petroleum sheen in that photo looks pretty tame compared to the one i saw for many hours on the huron river. so far... we've had petro/oil spills into the huron/kalamazoo/belle river all within 1 month. wow... did you know that particular spill went 1 mile and they had 3 booms? and according to google news for 'belle river fuel spill' you get 32 news articles? guess what? the ann arbor spill... went from the UofM hospital area to Gallup Park... which is about 1+ miles as well, and more than likely, went further when it was dispersed that same night from a storm. oh, they had booms/pads/hazmat teams as well, and when they wanted more equipment, they had problems getting more! oh, how much spilled in ann arbor? they don't know. tests showed it had petroleum, mineral oil and phosphoric acid. i could certainly smell the petroleum. BP.... perhaps should learn a few things from the ann arbor spill on how to keep it quiet. the officials here were quite brilliant and figured that it wasn't a health/environmental risk, so we weren't notified. fascinating.

Kai Petainen

Thu, Aug 19, 2010 : 10:48 p.m.

This is confusing? So the HVA called in the original emergency call about the spill. And then they left the scene? Does that sound right to you? "Home address of Complainant: "Huron Valley Ambulance, Ann Arbor, MI" -- UM DPS Incident Report "###### ###### UofM OSEH spoke with Survival Flight and the hospital with nothing to report reference any type of spillage" -- UM DPS Additional Report, but 18 days AFTER the spill Question -- The Huron Valley Ambulance called in the original emergency call to DPS, and they have no reference to the spill? "######, an employee from H.V.A. who contacted our Dept. to report the river contamination issue was not on scene." -- UM DPS Incident Report. Question -- So, indeed, the HVA was on scene (according to that statement), but the person from the Huron Valley Ambulance left the scene?

Kai Petainen

Tue, Aug 17, 2010 : 6:56 p.m.

This is confusing....???? "UM OSEH Representative, ###### ###### arrived on the scene at approx. 9:30pm. ###### advised that the Ann Arbor Fire Dept. was in control of the scene and he was an observer" -- UM DPS Narrative Report, July 19th "The scene was then turned over to U of M, and a gentleman by the name of ###### ###### [same name as the quote above], who informed us he worked for U of M OSEA, told us that U of M was taking responsibility for the incident since the storm water pipe came from the U of M property." -- AAFD Narative Incident Report, July 19th

Kai Petainen

Thu, Aug 12, 2010 : 10:18 p.m. Ann Arbor seems to have had a case of the 'UNKNOWN floating object'. You know about the spill already, and I have a summary of stuff here at: It's the unknown amount, the unknown cause, the unknown source, the unknown exact substance.....floating down a river for hours. So today, to be fair to the readers, I had a meeting with a bunch of directors and such regarding the spill. Summary of meeting. Q: Why was the public not notified? Answer: Because first responders did not view the spill as a threat. Q(directed at me by the AAFD): Why was I focusing on Phosphoric Acid? Answer: Because it was in the AAFD and the OSEH incident report Q: What spilled? Answer: Mineral salts. The phosphoric acid was a preliminary test on the river. Those tests are not accurate. Test results change as more work is done. Q: If first results say it was acid, why not notify the public? Answer: We don't want to cry wolf. Preliminary test. It was night, rain was coming, few on the river. No need to tell the public. Q: Did the booms collect anything? Answer: Yes. Q: Did you get a sample from that? Answer: No. You can't get a sample from the booms. Q: If it wasn't a permit dump, and it wasn't an accident, then it was criminal? Answer: No. It is UNKNOWN. The UNKNOWN is a 4th option. We don't know how it happened. Q: Do you know how much spilled? Answer: No. Q: Do you know where it came from? Answer: No. Q: Does the sewer lead just to the hospital area? Answer: No. It leads to residential areas too. Hundred+ insertion points. Residents/residential areas could have spilled it. A sprinkler could have turned on and grabbed some mineral salts/fertilizer from someones yard and washed it down the drain before the storm. Q: And that could fill up the entire section of the river that I saw for hours? Answer: Yes. These things disperse. Sheens are common on rivers. This is common. Q: Next time a spill occurs, will it at least be noted alongside the other DPS web incidents? They make notices about skateboarders, why not spills? Answer: Thank you. Noted. Q: What about such and such a rumor, or such and such a rumor as to the cause? (i'm not going to list those rumors on here, but I tried asking) Answer: Those are what if scenarios, we don't deal with what if scenarios. Don't focus on what if scenarios. In otherwords... how do I feel after this? it reminds me of a line from Star Wars... "nothing to see here move along

Kai Petainen

Sun, Aug 8, 2010 : 5:39 p.m.

Quick update. I put more videos/photos and documents relating to the spill on my webpage. Also, according to this webpage... "Excess phosphorus is one of the most serious challenges nonpoint source pollution to the water quality of the Huron River. Phosphorus is a naturally occurring element and an important nutrient in aquatic systems. But, a small amount of phosphorus goes a very long way. As little as one pound can stimulate the growth of 500 pounds of algae." That same page talks about "Nonpoint source pollution is pollution that cannot be traced to any specific source, such as a manufacturing plant", but... this spill can be traced at least to the University of Michigan medical campus area. And since phosphoric acid was spilled into the river on that day, I figured that I'd go and check out Gallup Park today. Sure enough... there is a rather large algae bloom at Gallup Park. (I'll post photos later today) Perhaps the spill did not cause all of the algae, but it sure never helped it either.

Kai Petainen

Thu, Aug 5, 2010 : 9:27 a.m.

According to the MDNRE, "They are no obligations for U of M to make public notice for an incident like this." To see some of your questions/answers (taken from incident reports) and photos relating to the event, go here:

Kai Petainen

Wed, Jul 28, 2010 : 9:34 p.m.

D. This might be what you're referring to? "In the same evening, a blown manhole cover near Chapin street hit the bottom of an AAPD patrol car and caused the gas tank to rupture, releasing 15 gallons of gas onto the roadway. AAPD secured the area and cleaned up the spill. It is unknown if any material made it into the stormdrain."

Kai Petainen

Wed, Jul 28, 2010 : 5:56 p.m.

according to one of the incident reports, the substance in the water was '88% Phosphoric Acid'.


Wed, Jul 28, 2010 : 2:26 p.m.

I had heard that the pressure in a manhole had hit the tank of the helicopter at the UofM. Anyone know of any truth to this story?


Thu, Jul 22, 2010 : 6:27 p.m.

Geez, censorship at work again. they didn't like me calling them out on their silly substitution for actual journalism. they featured the dihydrogen oxygen comment for the front page, "your voice" section. LOL! maybe they objected to the acronym I used instead of lol. sorry state of affairs.

Kai Petainen

Thu, Jul 22, 2010 : 9:13 a.m.

last night -- people were kayaking, swimming, and fishing in the same area. and i have to wonder... do they realize what went through and for how long the stuff flowed, a few nights prior? i'm not the only one who saw this -- many people from the emergency crews saw this as well, and there was at least 1 kayak (and 2 canoes?) that probably felt the sting of 'chemical' in their eyes... yet very little has been said. was it no big deal and just the usual spill in an environmentally conscious town? do we wait and hear about it after the art fair (don't want to give bad news when people are in town) and let people fish/swim in the meantime? maybe the water is fine, but it would be nice to get more info on it.

Kai Petainen

Wed, Jul 21, 2010 : 4 p.m.

You can see more photos/video here...


Wed, Jul 21, 2010 : 2:19 p.m.

Kuddos to the walker and I would be interested if there were to be a follow-up as to what the manhole chemical was.

John of Saline

Wed, Jul 21, 2010 : 10:51 a.m.

Isn't this likely motor oil or something similar? Some jerk pouring it into a storm drain?


Wed, Jul 21, 2010 : 8:56 a.m.

I fish on the Huron a lot and I am happy this Chemical was reported. All the fish I pull out of the river are covered in an odd slime, and I have caught many fish that seem sick, and even have a few deformities. Good work!


Wed, Jul 21, 2010 : 8:35 a.m.

Phil K., and others, don't get people going on DHM. Dihydrogen monoxide is water.


Wed, Jul 21, 2010 : 7:27 a.m.

Sir, I feel compelled to offer a defense of dihydrogenmonoxide. First of all, virtually all fatalities attributed to dihydrogenmonoxide are in fact caused by hematologic oxygen starvation and endogenic carbondioxide poisoning, not any unproven acute toxicity of dihydrogenmonoxide. Second, anthropogenic emissions of dihydrogenmonoxide are insignificant; they are dwarfed by natural seepage and spontaneous condensation events. Third, containment of dihydrogenmonoxide is very effective - vast stable geological structures have been used for that purpose since time immemorial. Therefore, the expanded use of dihydrogenmonoxide should be supported, not condemned.


Wed, Jul 21, 2010 : 2:57 a.m.

i cannot believe that showcased Phil K.'s comment! Dihydrogen Monoxide! LMFAO! What kind of fool would actually showcase that under "your voice"? For you who wish to know, dihydrogen monoxide is a fancy word for WATER! Good Job, just another way of showing that there is no such thing as investigative journalim in your operation. Just another mouthpiece for the man....

Basic Bob

Tue, Jul 20, 2010 : 11:17 p.m.

The solvent oxidane is leaching out of the ground and flowing into the Huron River. Animals and people who enter the river are at risk of asphyxia, however fish seem to be immune. Oxidane is also the major component of acid rain. Hopefully the DEQ will look into this and see if it can be impounded by dams before it reaches the Great Lakes.

Rod Johnson

Tue, Jul 20, 2010 : 11:16 p.m.

Yeah, it's kind of trolling with science.

Phil K.

Tue, Jul 20, 2010 : 7:22 p.m.

Maybe this will spur some folks into action so that we can finally take the first steps towards lowering the massive amounts of dihydrogen monoxide contamination in the area as well. Dihydrogen monoxide is the source behind the erosion of Argo dam, causes a thick, milky white crust to form on the surface of the Huron during prolonged periods of low temperatures, and is lethal to humans in high concentrations. Enough is enough!

Reginald Cafferty

Tue, Jul 20, 2010 : 6:45 p.m.

The efforts of the personnel responding to the scene are to be commended too. It is so refreshing when a timely and efficient response is delivered by our brethren working for the government! This story is good news all around and much better than that doom and gloom that they have on that CNN Nancy Grace all the time.


Tue, Jul 20, 2010 : 4:57 p.m.

Val Loose I agree, "Thanks again to the person calling in the spill". I would add thanks to for reporting the chemical spill. However, I hope they follow up and not leave it at "According to reports, the discharge was coming from some sort of manhole near the river."

Matt Kaz

Tue, Jul 20, 2010 : 4:22 p.m.

wow, I didn't think the gulf oil gusher would get this far north;-)

Val Losse

Tue, Jul 20, 2010 : 4:03 p.m.

How wonderful that there are people who are observant and willing to call in a chemical spill no matter what it might be keeping the Huron River clean. I would hope everyone that visits the river anywhere along its hundreds of miles will do the same. Water is our most precious resource. It is very unfortunate that there are people who consider the Huron River, any river, a dumping ground and never consider the consequences of their actions. They should have reported the spill immediately so corrective action could have been taken before it got to the river. Thanks again to the person calling in the spill.