Michigan on Wednesday blacklisted a chemicals distributor accused of nearly contaminating the drinking water of a metro-Detroit community with sulfuric acid.
PVS Nolwood, a Detroit-based company that supplies chemicals to as many as 10 municipal drinking water suppliers in the state, accidentally shipped four 55-gallon barrels of sulfuric acid to New Baltimore with labels that identified with mistakenly content to be hydrofluosilicic acid.
Hydrofluosilicic acid is commonly used to fluorinate drinking water, which prevents tooth decay. Sulfuric acid is not. It is a corrosive and toxic chemical commonly found in pipe cleaners, fertilizers, antifreeze, batteries and detergents. It is not considered safe to drink.
New Baltimore Water Plant Superintendent Chris Hiltunen said an employee was pumping what he believed to be hydrofluosilicic acid from a drum into a storage tank that feeds the water supply that feeds nearly 14,000 residents when a chemical reaction occurs and contents become extremely hot. It was then that the employee knew something was wrong.
Fortunately, Hiltunen said, the plant was shut down at the time, so the chemical was not added to the water supply. Everything has been shut down and chemical supplier PVS Nolwood has been notified.
Based on this error, NSF International, a global non-profit organization that sets standards for chemicals that can be added to drinking water, withdrew PVS Nolwood’s certification.
“I guess I was a little surprised that they retired their certification so quickly,” Hiltunen said. “I appreciate it because I think the circumstances that have arisen and the problem that has arisen are unacceptable.
“In our industry, it is not a mistake you are allowed to make.”
Since Michigan law requires all water suppliers to meet NSF International standards, all Michigan communities that buy from PVS Nolwood must now find a new source.
Decertification also means that any business or government around the world that wishes to comply with NSF International security compliance can no longer source from the Detroit distributor or its global parent company.
Michigan Department of the Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) spokesman Hugh McDiarmid Jr. said all Michigan water supply systems are told PVS Nolwood has lost its NSF International certification.
NSF International completed an investigation of the error on Wednesday and forwarded the results to EGLE. The full report and findings have not been made public, but MLive is requesting a copy.
“PVS confirmed that only four drums were mislabelled, and all of them were sent to New Baltimore,” McDiarmid said.
Hiltunen seemed skeptical that the error only applied to the four barrels in his community.
“From what I understand, they have a series of drums that they fill, 80 drums, and they print 80 labels, and the labels go on the drums as they are filled,” said Hiltunen, who spoke with representatives of JVS Nolwood. “They don’t fill barrel by barrel, because they bring an oil tanker on a train and fill the drums from there
“You can draw your own conclusions. “
EGLE said all Michigan water systems that use the supplier have confirmed that they do not have any mislabeled chemicals in stock, or that they have verified and confirmed the accuracy of each label.
“They are not allowed to make a mistake that could hurt my clients,” Hiltunen said. “The public and ultimately my employees posed the greatest risk. “
No water worker was injured as a result of the accident.
“We were lucky that nothing came out of the factory,” Hiltunen said.
Hiltunen said the problem was detected on July 11 and that EGLE was immediately notified.
EGLE first informed the public of the problem in an Aug. 6 bulletin, but said it immediately relayed the information to the Environmental Protection Agency, MIOSHA and NSF International once New Baltimore alerted the agency. .
Hiltunen said the New Baltimore Water Department will need to replace a storage tank and pump worth about $ 10,000. He received a bill this week for $ 1,200 for the mislabeled chemicals.
“I just sent it back to them,” he said.
New Baltimore has been purchasing chemicals from PVS Nolwood for at least 25 years. The community is now looking for a new supplier.
MLive has asked PVS Nolwood for comment and is awaiting a response.
More about MLive:
How sulfuric acid almost ended up in the water supply
Meet Michigan Residents Affected by PFAS in Drinking Water
Setting of drinking water limits for PFAS
Contaminated drinking water source