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Source of ‘mystery trash’ on West Michigan beaches identified

Anonymous • Jul 21, 2015 at 11:14 AM

An investigation by the U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency cites the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District’s combined sewer overflows into Lake Michigan — a foul mix of sanitary sewage and stormwater — as the “logical suspect” behind both summertime washups.

The finding comes more than six months after the Alliance for the Great Lakes filed a federal Freedom of Information Act request for the information, seeking answers on behalf of the many alliance volunteers who responded to the incidents and helped the Coast Guard in its initial investigation.

In total, the Coast Guard located 266 pages of documents from its investigation and shared the bulk of them with the alliance.

The records show Milwaukee released an estimated 686 million gallons of combined sewer overflow on June 7-9, 2008; and an estimated 1.9 billion gallons on July 22-25, 2010. Flooding summer rains struck the region both times, overwhelming the plant and prompting major releases into Lake Michigan.

In the days that followed, tons of “mystery trash” — including food wrappers, bottle caps, plastic bits, syringes and woody debris — was found on beaches along about 50 miles of the West Michigan coastline.

The Alliance for the Great Lakes’ Adopt-a-Beach volunteers and shoreline property owners were among the first responders, clearing beaches and reporting to the Coast Guard any mailing addresses, bar codes and other identifiable markings they found. That information ultimately helped the Coast Guard pinpoint the source.

The FOIA documents say plastic materials found on the beaches likely originated from a recycling center. The source of the medical waste has not yet been explained.

To read more of this story, see today’s print or e-edition of the Grand Haven Tribune.

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