The River is Open! 

On August 12, 2022 the Michigan Department of Health and Human Safety (MDHHS) lifted its recommendation for no contact with Huron River water after reviewing data related to the Tribar Technologies hexavalent chromium release.  There is no need for people and pets to avoid contact with Huron River water. MDHHS had issued a no-contact recommendation on August 2 while officials investigated. 

For almost two weeks in August 2022 the Huron River was closed for recreation from Wixom Road to Kent Lake. Officials investigated a reported release of wastewater containing thousands of pounds hexavalent chromium from Tribar Technologies. Tribar discharges to the Wixom Wastewater Treatment Plant under an industrial permit. Wixom plant treats the wastewater and discharges it to Norton Creek, a tributary of the Huron River. 

The fear was that significant amounts of hexavalent chromium had made it to the river system. Thankfully, that was not the case and an environmental catastrophe was avoided. Despite the close call, the river was not adversely affected and remains open for recreation. 

The state investigation concluded that only 20 pounds of total chromium made it to Norton Creek. Only three of 144 water samples from 55 locations in the Huron River came back with detectable levels of chromium with all of them at levels that regulators consider safe. Regular sampling at Ann Arbor and at key points along the river over the following weeks did not detect elevated chromium levels, further indicating that the vast majority of the release was captured by the Wixom Wastewater Treatment Plant. 

About Hexavalent Chromium 

Hexavalent chromium, also referred to as hexchrome, is a known carcinogen that can cause a number of adverse health effects through ingestion, skin contact or inhalation. Hexavalent chromium is a form of the metallic element chromium. Chromium is a naturally occurring element found in rocks, animals, plants, soil and volcanic dust and gases. It is used in many industries, including electroplating, welding and chromate painting. 


On August 2, 2022 the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) announced a potential discharge of several thousand gallons of wastewater containing a suspected 4,100 plus pounds of hexavalent chromium from Tribar Technologies to the Wixom wastewater treatment plant. The plant treats the community’s wastewater before directing it into Norton Creek, which connects to the Huron River between North Wixom Road and Burns Road in Milford.  

EGLE and MDHHS jointly advised residents to avoid contact with the Huron River for the stretch from Norton Creek downstream to Kent Lake while officials investigated. That advisory was in effect for 10 days until August 12, 2022. 

While scientists raced to identify the extent and location of the contamination, residents avoided river recreation in the affected area and beyond. Extensive media coverage of the suspected spill informed the public of the “no-contact” advisory and the progress of the investigation. Even the earliest news reports covered that the chemicals came from Tribar Technologies, an auto supplier chiefly responsible for the PFAS contamination in the Huron River.    

Residents, businesses and river advocates mobilized. On August 10, Heavner Canoe & Kayak Rental, the nearby local outfitter, hosted a press event and rally. State Representatives Yousef Rabhi and Felicia Brabec and Oakland County Commission Chair David Woodward called for support of polluter pay laws. Other speakers included representatives from the Sierra Club Michigan Chapter, Clean Water Action Michigan, Bruce and Alan Heavner, and Congresswoman Elissa Slotkin’s office.  

With the Ecology Center and others, HRWC signed on to a letter calling on Ford, General Motors, Stellantis and Toyota to immediately cease doing business with, or utilizing parts from, any supplier using hexavalent chromium.  

In Ann Arbor, which draws drinking water from the Huron River, city drinking water treatment plant staff monitored the investigation and developed contingency plans in case the chromium release reached the city’s water intake. 

EGLE’s investigation concluded that less than 20 pounds of total chromium made its way into Norton Creek from Tribar. On-site carbon filters at Tribar’s plant removed most of the chromium before it got into Wixom’s sewer system. Wixom’s wastewater treatment plant was able to capture most of the rest in on-site holding tanks and containment ditches. During the crisis, EGLE collected and tested 146 water samples from 55 locations throughout the river system from Barton Pond in Ann Arbor to Norton Creek in Wixom. Only three samples came back with detectable levels of chromium with all of them at levels that regulators consider safe. 

During the crisis, HRWC worked diligently to protect public health by communicating late-breaking news to watershed residents and partners, providing expertise to news media and others, and collaborating with county health departments and with EGLE on the investigation. In October, HRWC hosted a community forum to call for stronger state-level polluter pay laws and shared the Huron River hexchrome story with environmental groups statewide. 



While we are incredibly fortunate to have avoided what could have been a horrific ecological and human health disaster, we cannot lose sight of what happened. Tribar Technologies has now caused two catastrophic chemical releases. There is PFAS, discovered at unsafe levels in Huron River fish in 2018, with its long-term implications for human health and the environment. And hexavalent chromium, in 2022, a near miss but with lasting impacts to the Wixom’s wastewater treatment system, to the businesses in the watershed that rely on river recreation for their livelihood, and to the public trust in the river as a safe place to paddle, fish and connect with nature. 

Video: “River Spills and Polluter Pay,” a Michigan Environmental Council interview with HRWC’s executive director Rebecca Esselman, October 15, 2022. 

Get updates on Pollution from HRWC’s Blog. 


Tribar Technologies manufactures decorative trim parts for automobiles. There are commercially available substitutes for hexavalent chromium whose performances meet current specifications. Companies that use hexavalent chromium in their processes violate industry supply chain standards and endanger the health of workers and the environment. Hexavalent chromium is a major safety hazard to workers, a threat to drinking water supplies, and a source of contamination in over 1,000 sites across the United States.  

Sign a petition to automakers, calling on them to STOP buying parts made with hexavalent chromium. 


Contact your state elected officials and ask them to prioritize and support legislation that holds polluters accountable for cleaning up contaminants. For far too long, Michigan taxpayers have borne the cost of   cleanup while industry profits.  

At election time, choose candidates who recognize the connection between the environment and public health and who prioritize the protection of one for the other. 


Our staff needs to focus time and resources to address unexpected issues like Hexavalent Chromium when they happen and to advocate for solutions that prevent the threat of toxic spills in the first place. Please become a member of HRWC today.