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The federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) and the Michigan Department of Community Health (MDCH) have a cooperative agreement for conducting assessments and consultations regarding potential health hazards at toxic chemical contamination sites within the State of Michigan. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) has asked the MDCH to evaluate any health risks associated with several properties included in the Brownfield Pilot Projects in Detroit and other cities in Michigan.

The EPA defines Brownfields as "abandoned, idled, or under-used" industrial and commercial facilities where expansion or redevelopment is complicated by real or perceived environmental contamination. Local governmental entities have asked the EPA to conduct environmental assessments of Brownfield properties in their jurisdictions. The EPA has consulted with the MDCH concerning public health aspects of these assessments.

The MDCH health consultation for a Brownfield property includes consideration of the following fundamental questions:

  • Are there any imminent or urgent threats to public health associated with the property?
  • Does the proposed future use of the property pose any long-term public health hazard?
  • What specific actions, if any, are necessary to make the property safe for future use?
  • Is there enough information available to answer these questions, and if not, what additional information is needed?


The Master Metals property is the site of a former lead smelting operation in Detroit, Wayne County, Michigan. Master Metals and several other corporate entities operated the smelter from 1965 to 1983. In the late 1980s, the Synergy Production Group produced ferrous sulfate heptahydrate on the property. The property is currently abandoned and the title has reverted to the State of Michigan. There are industrial/commercial properties to the east and west of the property, a correctional facility across railroad tracks to the south, and a residential development across the street to the north.

In 1989, residents of the development across the street complained to the Wayne County Air Pollution Control Division (WCAPCD) about dust coming from the property. An investigator from the WCAPCD found the sidewalks and at least one vehicle near the property covered with an orange powder, that he identified as relatively non-toxic ferrous sulfate. The WCAPCD cited Synergy Production for failure to obtain an appropriate air pollution control permit.

In 1996 and 1997, the Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) investigated the property, finding very high concentrations of lead in the soil on the property. The buildings on the property are dilapidated, and partially collapsed, and one holds containers of laboratory chemicals. The U.S. EPA is planning to remove the laboratory chemicals and other hazardous waste.

The main operating area of the property is fenced, though access is possible through broken windows in one building. There are also signs of trespass within the fenced area. A major section of the property is not fenced, and workers from a neighboring operation use that area for equipment storage. The unfenced section includes areas with very high concentrations of lead in the soil.

Because of the high concentrations of lead in the soil and the physical hazards from the abandoned buildings, the Michigan Department of Community Health (MDCH) considers that the property poses a public health hazard. MDCH supports the proposed EPA removal of the chemicals and other hazardous substances from the property, and recommends that access to the property be more effectively restricted, that exposure to the lead-contaminated soil be reduced by removal, encapsulation, or other methods, and that workers at the neighboring facility follow appropriate advice from state and local occupational health authorities.


The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has asked the Michigan Department of Community Health (MDCH) to evaluate the health risks associated with the Master Metals property as part of the Detroit Brownfields Pilot Project.

The Master Metals property is located at 4700 and 4740 East Nevada Street, Detroit, Wayne County, Michigan (Figure 1). From 1965 to 1983, Master Metals and several other corporate entities operated a lead smelter on the property. In the late 1980s, the Synergy Production Group used one building on the property for a ferrous sulfate heptahydrate production and bagging line. The property is currently abandoned, and title has reverted to the State of Michigan in lieu of back taxes.

There are four structures on the property: a combined office, laboratory, and warehouse on the northwest corner of the property, the lead smelter in the southwest, a Quonset hut in the northeast corner, and a cooling tower in the southeast corner (Figure 2).

In 1989, the Wayne County Air Pollution Control Division (WCAPCD) received complaints from residents of a housing development across Nevada Street from the property regarding particulate emissions from the Synergy Production Group operation. A WCAPCD inspector found the sidewalks and at least one vehicle in the area covered with a fine orange particulate matter. The inspector identified the orange particles as relatively non-toxic ferrous sulfate. WCAPCD issued a Notice of Violation to Synergy Production Group for failing to obtain an air pollution control permit for the operation (1).

North of the property, across Nevada Street, is a housing development. West of the property is a recycling and transfer facility, whose operators have expressed an interest in acquiring the Master Metals property. South of the property is a railroad right-of-way and a City of Detroit correctional facility. East of the property is a trucking operation, which also uses a parcel of land historically part of the Master Metals property (the 4740 Nevada Street parcel, east of the "new fence" shown in Figure 2).

In August 1996, EPA and contractor staff conducted a site assessment of the Master Metals property. They collected samples of soil and other material, described in the next section. Inside the office/laboratory/warehouse building, they found containers identified as containing laboratory chemicals, such as sodium hydroxide pellets, hydrofluorosilic acid, carbon tetrachloride, nitric acid, zinc oxide, methyl alcohol, formaldehyde, and hydrogen peroxide solution (1). In August 1997, EPA and contractor staff returned to the property to conduct additional sampling (2). On August 12, 1997, MDCH personnel visited the property while the EPA and contractor staff were collecting data. In October 1997, the EPA issued a proposal to remove and dispose of hazardous materials found on the property, including laboratory-sized containers, deteriorating drums and tanks, soil and debris, and baghouse waste (3).

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