Ethylene Glycol from Kent County Airport
Pollutes Tributary of Thornapple River

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Ethylene glycol, used to de-ice plane wings and fusilages, has been discovered in the small un-named tributary of the Thornapple that runs under Thornapple River Drive (Thornhills Ave.) and along Tanglewood in Cascade Township. The mouth of the stream enters the Thornapple River in the impoundment behind the Cascade Dam. An article in the July 23 Grand Rapids press reveals that the discovery was made almost three years ago.

The pollution apparently occured because stormwater runoff from the airport discharges directly to the stream. The airport has a stormwater discharge permit that allows it to do so. Many airports have a method in place for preventing ethylene glycol pollution to surface and ground waters, but Kent County airport does not.

The airport, according to the article, hired a consultant and formed a committee to study the issue once the pollution was discovered. How the pollution was discovered has not been made known, but the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (Steve Houtteman) has been involved in investigating the problem since 1996. The options for preventing ethylene glycol runoff to the stream reportedly will cost $12 to $15 million.


Ok; factual reporting is over.

The Thornapple River Watershed Group has observed time and time again that the design practices of most (not all) West Michigan stormwater design engineers are stuck somewhere back in ancient times. We think they are perhaps just a little behind the dawning realization that dumping raw sewage into surface waters is probably not a good idea. We realize that the Kent County Airport stormwater discharge design came into being way back when West Michigan was just learning the meaning of ecology. But why is it that Detroit Metropolitan Airport has an ethylene glycol handling solution in place, and the Kent County Airport (not the most responsible of neighbors, just ask any resident of Caledonia and Cascade Township) does not? Why would our airport directly and knowingly continue to release a toxic substance, whose effects are well known, into a local, living stream ecosystem for THREE YEARS? Things that make you go "hmmm"....

What IS ethylene glycol? It's antifreeze, folks. C3H8O2. It's that stuff that you put in the radiator of your car. It comes in that big plastic jug with the dire health warnings on it, that state that if you or your pet drink the contents, it may cause death. It does not take a genius to make the connection that this toxic chemical should not be dumped where it can affect groundwater and surface water quality.

Hiring a consultant and forming a committee are government agency fogging techniques. Taking those steps is a way to make it look like action is being taken, while in reality nothing is done. For three years, the Kent County International Airport has KNOWINGLY discharged antifreeze to the stream and ultimately to the Thornapple River, while the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality waited. (Another question; what was the DEQ doing while waiting? Hmmm again.... ) That in itself is a statement of intent by the airport officials. Airport director James Koslosky stated in the interview with the Grand Rapids Press that "....You have to be sensitive to environmental issues." That sounds nice in a press release, but waiting three years before taking any concrete action is not demonstrating any sensitivity at all.


ACUTE (SHORT-TERM) ECOLOGICAL EFFECTS OF ETHYLENE GLYCOL EXPOSURE
Acute toxic effects may include the death of animals, birds, or fish, and death or low growth rate in plants. Acute effects are seen two to four days after animals or plants come in contact with a toxic chemical substance.

Ethylene glycol has moderate acute toxicity to aquatic life. It has caused chromosomal damage to agricultural crops. Insufficient data are available to evaluate or predict the short-term effects of ethylene glycol to birds or land animals.


CHRONIC (LONG-TERM) ECOLOGICAL EFFECTS
Chronic toxic effects may include shortened lifespan, reproductive problems, lower fertility, and changes in appearance or behavior. Chronic effects can be seen long after first exposure(s) to a toxic chemical. Ethylene glycol has moderate chronic toxicity to aquatic life. Insufficient data are available to evaluate or predict the long- term effects of ethylene glycol to plants, birds, or land animals.


WATER SOLUBILITY
Ethylene glycol is highly soluble in water. Concentrations of 1,000 milligrams and more will mix with a liter of water.


DISTRIBUTION AND PERSISTENCE IN THE ENVIRONMENT
Ethylene glycol is slightly persistent in water, with a half-life of between 2 to 20 days. The half-life of a pollutant is the amount of time it takes for one-half of the chemical to be degraded. Virtually 100% of ethylene glycol will end up in water.


BIOACCUMULATION IN AQUATIC ORGANISMS
Some substances increase in concentration, or bioaccumulate, in living organisms as they breathe contaminated air, drink contaminated water, or eat contaminated food. These chemicals can become concentrated in the tissues and internal organs of animals and humans. The concentration of ethylene glycol found in fish tissues is expected to be about the same as the average concentration of ethylene glycol in the water from which the fish was taken.
"The EPA has set a drinking water guideline for ethylene glycol of 7,000 micrograms (7,000 g/L) in a liter of water for an adult." NO THANKYOU, WE ARE NOT HAVING ANY.

More on solutions to ethylene glycol pollution in airports
From The Great Lakes Radio Consortium.

Report on Health Effects of Ethylene Glycol Exposure
From United States Environmental Protection Agency.


Thornapple River Environmental Issues

email us

The Thornapple River Watershed Group
P.O. Box 341
Caledonia, Michigan 49316