The University of Michigan’s chapter of College Democrats held a discussion Thursday on Michigan’s water issues, focusing on the Flint water crisis, a pipeline that carries oil across the Great Lakes and the possible contamination of Ann Arbor’s water supply on Thursday.
LSA sophomore Collin Kelly, chair of the College Democrats, said the group held the event to highlight water issues across the state.
“Flint shed a lot of light on water issues in general,” he said. “So we wanted County Commissioner Yousef Rabhi to come in because he’s been fighting for six years about water issues in Ann Arbor. He was able to shed a light on things we don’t really see in the news, but are really important and affecting the people in Ann Arbor.”
Flint was a prominent topic of discussion following the testimony of Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) earlier in the day before the U.S. House Oversight Committee, drawing calls from several Democratic members of the committee for his resignation.
A clip of the hearing was played at the College Democrats’ meeting, in which Rep. Matt Cartwright (D–Pa.) said the governor should claim responsibility for creating the crisis.
“Plausible deniability only works when it’s plausible,” Rep. Matt Cartwright said in the clip. “You were not in a medically induced coma for a year. I’ve had about enough of your false contrition and your phony apologies.”
Earlier in the day the University’s College Democrats also released a statement calling for Snyder’s resignation based on his perceived negligence of the Flint water crisis.
“It should not take national outrage to compel officials to address the issues faced by our state’s most underserved communities,” the statement said. “Governor Snyder has prioritized fiscal austerity over the health and safety of those he is obligated to protect.”
During Thursday’s meeting, County Commissioner Yousef Rabhi (D) also discussed the safety of the Ann Arbor well water supply, where a plume of 1,4-dioxane-contaminated groundwater is being monitored to prevent human consumption. Dioxane has been linked to cancer and concentration to large amounts of it can cause nervous system, liver and kidney damage.
Rabhi charged that Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality — who allowed Gelman Sciences to pump dioxane into the water in 1966 and are currently responsible for mandating cleanup standards for the dioxane— only exists to support businesses and allow them to pollute.
“The Department of Environmental Quality has nothing to do with environmental quality,” he said. “It helps justify corporate polluters and has nothing in terms of the public’s interest or environmental equality in mind. As an organization, it is a scam.”
On Monday, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality updated its cleanup standards for 1,4-dioxane to 7.2 parts per billion. However, the change does not necessarily ensure Gelman Sciences will comply with it, and the state legislature still needs to approve the standard.
Another major water issue in Michigan — Enbridge’s Line 5, a pipeline that carries oil across the Great Lakes — has been controversial because environmental groups are concerned about the potential of a spill. Another pipeline owned by the same company had an oil spill in 2010, affecting 35 square miles of the Kalamazoo River, the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history.
The 62-year-old Enbridge Line 5 runs beneath the Straits of Mackinac and carries up to 23 million gallons of light crude oil and liquid natural gas every day. An oil spill in the Straits would be disastrous for the region due to the strong currents in the area, which would cause it to impact the majority of the Great Lakes, according to the presentation.
Dave Schwab, a research scientist for the University’s Graham Sustainability Institute, created a simulation showing how oil would flow across the Great Lakes in the event of a spill.
In the documentary “The Dirty Secret at the Bottom of the Great Lakes: Oil & Water” made by Motherboard, shown during the meeting, Schwab said he believes the Straits of Mackinac] is the worst place for an oil spill in the Great Lakes.
“I can’t imagine another place in the Great Lakes where it’d be more devastating to have an oil spill,” he said.
Last May, various groups protested outside of the Mackinac Island Policy Conference to raise awareness for the issue.
LSA sophomore Sari Greife, who attended the event, said she found the information presented in the discussion shocking as an Ann Arbor native.
“I thought that it was really scary,” she said. “Everything that’s happening with the water supply in Ann Arbor over the past 30 years is really surprising to me because I didn’t know much about it and I’m from Ann Arbor. My house is in that area, so that is kind of freaky.”