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Environmental emergency communication updates set

October 15, 2013 • Business


In this Oct. 4, 2013 photo, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection patrol boat passes the upbound American Century freighter as the 1000-foot-long freighter is in ballast, in St. Clair, Mich. Updates by Michigan to an environmental emergency communication system could improve the response to problems in waterways including those along the U.S.-Canadian border, officials said. (AP Photo/Detroit News, Todd McInturf) DETROIT FREE PRESS OUT; HUFFINGTON POST OUT

DETROIT (AP) — Updates by Michigan to an environmental emergency communication system could improve the response to problems in waterways including those along the U.S.-Canadian border, officials said.

Environmental accident information is sent through Michigan’s Pollution Emergency Alerting System. For years, The Detroit News reported (http://bit.ly/GUAlUf ), emergency calls have been handled by a call center staffed by private contractors.

In some previous cases, the call-takers were unfamiliar with technical terms used to describe environmental accidents and calls consequently were often prioritized poorly or handled more slowly than was warranted, said Bruce Van Otteren, administrator of Michigan’s alerting system.

In the coming months, a team of trained Michigan Department of Environmental Quality staffers is to begin handling those calls internally. An automatic “smart messaging” system then will forward information to emergency and government officials.

On the Canadian side, officials aren’t currently planning changes.

“I think it’s fair to say we are confident in our role in the notification protocol,” said Kate Jordan, an Ontario Ministry of the Environment spokeswoman. “We are certainly open to working with Michigan authorities on any changes they feel are necessary.”

The system is expected to have an effect in part along the St. Clair River and southern Lake Huron. That area contains several intake pipes that provide drinking water in the U.S. and Canada, and accidents over the past 15 months revived concerns about the safety of water supplies.

Last year, a dredge sinking in U.S. waters north of Port Huron leaked diesel fuel and another loading cargo in Sarnia, Ontario, leaked ethyl benzene into the St. Clair River. A rupture nearly five weeks ago in an underground pipe in Sarnia released diesel fuel into the St. Clair River.

The river is on a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency list for locations that have experienced “environmental degradation.” Spills and accidents as well as and sewage overflows contribute to the situation, as do shipping traffic and development.

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