Michigan environmental officials are investigating the accidental discharge of 18,000 gallons of black-water-based paint by a steel components plant in Big Rapids City.
No injuries were reported in the spill Saturday night from the facility owned by Haworth Inc.
The company said most of the paint had been contained within the Big Rapids sewer treatment facility, while “a small amount” spilled into the Muskegon River.
In a later news conference, however, the company’s senior environmental engineer conceded that the company did not know how much of the spill ended up in the river.
“The issue is under investigation, so we can’t say for sure what happened,” said engineer Steve Kooy, “What we do know is there was a release.”
City and state Department of Natural Resources officials have been testing the water to determine the extent of the damage.
“We know some got out. We just don’t know much,” Big Rapids Public Works Director Don Greiner said at the news conference.
Elevated Bacterial Levels
Greiner said the river’s fecal coliform bacteria level “is higher than it should be, but we don’t believe it’s an amount that creates any alarm.”
“The good news,” Greiner said, “is that the discharge happened… from about midnight to 1 o’clock the next day, and there was nobody in that river,” which draws crowds of tubers and canoeists in the spring and summer. “So we don’t believe there’s any impact on people in terms of their normal outdoor activities.”
The spill apparently occurred during maintenance of the system Saturday. Haworth officials said the paint is normally retained in an onsite tank.
‘We Expect No Harmful Effects’
The company said in a statement that it had “immediately notified the city and has been working with all appropriate government entities to ensure all necessary steps are taken to minimize any effects.”
“While the discharge was more than 90 percent water and the majority was contained at the sewer facility, it included water-based-paint elements. We expect that testing will confirm no harmful effects to people or the environment.”
Kooy said the investigation into the cause of the accident—whether human or mechanical error—would take some time because of the company’s complex systems.
Haworth officials gave no details about the activity underway in the facility when the spill occurred. Company spokeswoman Julie Smith said the product in production was new to the company. "It was something we switched to relatively recently, to try to get some more green materials," she said.
Kooy said the company was committed to sustainability and would take “proactive measures” to do “anything we can do in terms of the investigation.”
Smith said, "We have taken preventative steps to ensure a similar event cannot occur."
Haworth, based in Holland, MI, manufactures office furniture and organic workspaces, including raised access floors, moveable walls, systems furniture, seating, storage and wood casegoods. The family-owned company distributes products in more than 120 countries through a global network of 600 dealers. The company reported net sales of $1.11 billion in 2009.