Michigan on Wednesday blacklisted a chemical distributor that’s been blamed for nearly contaminating a Metro Detroit community’s drinking water with sulfuric acid.
PVS Nolwood, a Detroit-based company that provides chemicals to as many as 10 municipal drinking water suppliers in the state, accidentally shipped four 55-gallon drums of sulfuric acid to New Baltimore with labels that erroneously identified the contents as hydrofluosilicic acid.
Hydrofluosilicic acid is commonly used to fluoridate drinking water, which prevents tooth decay. Sulfuric acid is not. It’s a corrosive and toxic chemical commonly found in drain cleaners, fertilizers, antifreeze, batteries and detergents. It’s 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 into the water supply that supplies nearly 14,000 residents when a chemical reaction occurred and the contents became extremely hot. That’s when the employee knew something was wrong.
Luckily, Hiltunen said, the plant was shut down at the time, so the chemical didn’t get added to the water supply. Everything was shut down and the chemical supplier, PVS Nolwood, was notified.
Based on the mistake, NSF International, a global nonprofit that establishes standards for chemicals that may be added to drinking water, has stripped PVS Nolwood’s certification.
“I guess I was a little surprised that they removed their certification that quick,” said Hiltunen. ” I appreciate it, because I think the circumstances that happened and the issue that happened is unacceptable.
“In our industry, that’s not a mistake you’re allowed to make.”
Since Michigan law requires all water suppliers to comply with NSF International standards, any Michigan communities that are purchasing from PVS Nolwood must now find a new source.
The decertification also means any company or government worldwide that desires NSF International safety compliance compliance may no longer procure from the Detroit distributor or its global parent company.
Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) spokesperson Hugh McDiarmid Jr. said all Michigan water systems are being notified that PVS Nolwood has lost its NSF International certification.
NSF International completed an investigation of the error Wednesday and forwarded the findings to EGLE. The full report and findings haven’t been released publicly, but MLive is seeking a copy.
“PVS has confirmed that only four drums were mislabeled, and all were sent to New Baltimore,” McDiarmid said.
Hiltunen seemed skeptical that the error only applied to his community’s four barrels.
“My understanding is that they have a run of drums that they fill, 80 drums, and they print 80 labels, and the labels go on the drums as they’re filled,” said Hiltunen, who’s spoken with JVS Nolwood representatives. “They don’t fill barrel by barrel, because they bring a tanker in on a train and they fill drums from there
“You can draw you own conclusions.”
EGLE said all Michigan water systems that use the supplier confirmed they either didn’t have any of the mislabeled chemical in stock, or they checked and confirmed the accuracy of each label.
“They’re not allowed to make a mistake that could cause injury to my customers,” Hiltunen said. “The public, and ultimately my employees were the greatest risk.”
No water employees were injured as a result of the mishap.
“We were fortunate that nothing made it outside the plant,” Hiltunen said.
Hiltunen said the problem was detected July 11 and EGLE was immediately notified.
EGLE first notified the public of the issue 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.