U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., held a community meeting Thursday evening at Washtenaw County Learning Resource Center to discuss potential action to stop the spread of the Gelman Plume, a plume of toxic chemical pollution currently running through Ann Arbor’s groundwater. 

Dingell spoke at the event alongside officials from the Environmental Protection Agency, Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes & Energy and the Michigan Attorney General’s Office. Approximately 150 community members and City Council members attended the event. 

At the meeting, community members asked questions and discussed ideas with the officials, who expressed a commitment to stopping the spread of the plume. Dingell told  The Daily the goal of the meeting was to bring relevant government agencies together to discuss how best to solve the problem. 

“The Gelman dioxane plume has been a problem in Washtenaw County for far too long,” Dingell said. “As local leaders work towards consensus on a solution, it is essential that we have all responsible government agencies at the table to publicly answer questions about the current situation and options moving forward. That is why I convened this meeting with representatives from the EPA, EGLE, and the Michigan Attorney General’s offices. It is important that everyone comes together in the same room to have a productive conversation and be rowing in the same direction about how to best move forward.”

The event began with Jason Morgan, chair of the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners. Morgan asked pre-planned questions from community members to the officials on the panel. The first question was directed towards the EPA and EGLE about their efforts to address the issue. 

EPA Deputy Director Joan Tanaka expressed the importance of the EPA working with state officials to contain the toxic chemicals spreading throughout the groundwater in Ann Arbor. 

“We understand that lots of stuff is going on right now, there’s going to be a lot of talking,” Tanaka said.  “I don’t think anybody wants the problems to get worse and so we would be working together to figure out how it could not (get worse).”

Tanaka also said the site is not currently considered a Superfund site, a site requiring long-term care which receives government support, because the groundwater contamination is not at a point of causing harm to people. Without this classification, it does not require emergency funds for cleanup from the EPA or from the responsible party, Gelman Sciences, Tanaka said. 

Currently, EGLE is in charge of making sure the level of the toxic dioxane chemical stays below a certain level and does not harm Ann Arbor residents. 

The meeting then moved to city and county officials asking the panel specific questions. Most of the questions were geared towards the EGLE, Attorney General official and the EPA to better understand the timeline of diminishing the plume. 

Tanaka explained that at most it would take approximately 25 years for the plume to be entirely cleaned up by the EPA, but in the meantime, EGLE will continue to monitor the plume. 

The discussion then opened up to questions from all community members in attendance. Community members asked questions about the timeline of cleanup efforts and who would be in charge of the cleanups. 

Rita Loch-Caruso, an environmental health sciences professor who attended the panel, spoke to The Daily after the meeting about her concerns.

“I’m very concerned about the plume,” Loch-Caruso said. “I live on the west side of Ann Arbor and I’ve been going to these meetings for over ten years, and I have watched the plume advance toward my property. I’ve lived in our home for over 35 years year. The plume is now under my house.” 

Loch-Caruso also discussed her thoughts on the community meeting after hearing the different representatives from the different agencies speak. She left the meeting feeling like there is more work to be done on this issue.

“What I take away is that we still have an uphill battle to climb,” Loch-Caruso said. “It’s not clear to me though that the regulatory groups from the different government agencies and the different government entities and jurisdictions are really going to be able to come together in agreement, but I really hope so because I think we need a solution.”

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