In Larcom City Hall, about 50 Ann Arbor residents and City Councilmembers attended a public meeting to discuss possible locations for monitoring water wells regarding the Gelman Plume.

According to Washtenaw County’s website, the Gelman Plume is the spread of the contaminant 1,4 dioxane throughout the county groundwater that is contaminating residents’ drinking water. 1,4 dioxane is a carcinogen that, from 1966 to 1986, the company Gelman Sciences used in their manufacturing process, in which they improperly disposed of their waste water.

Brian Steglitz, water treatment plant manager for Ann Arbor, opened the event with a quick overview and introductions, sharing the reason behind the meeting. 

“So why are we here?” Steglitz said. “We are here because we want to make sure that we are doing everything that we can to make sure that the city’s drinking water supply is protected.” 

Ann Arbor resident Mozghan Savabieasfahani, an environmental taxologist, told The Daily she feels Ann Arbor has fallen short in protecting its residents.

“The spirit of actual change (is missing),” Savabieasfahani said. “The city of Ann Arbor has miserably failed from protecting us and our water supply is contaminated. We want change and the urgency to clean it up is missing.”  

Patti McCall, associate geologist and professional wetland scientist at Tetra Tech, broke down the plans for the monitoring well, which is meant to test water thought to be untouched by 1,4 dioxane. If the contaminant is present, then the monitoring wells will trigger early warning signs, McCall said. 

McCall said the project is broken down into six phases: data collection, three-dimensional modeling, independent review, sample collection, well location recommendations and public engagement.

“Our model is a three-dimensional rendering essentially of many variables to help us understand where we could put these sentinel wells and protect the city’s drinking water supply,” McCall said. “It is a deterministic model, and by deterministic I mean it is a snapshot in time… so we can take a look at some cross-sectional views.” 

McCall mentioned “kriging,” a process where a researcher is given two endpoints to determine a weighted average. She said kriging is essential to the model because there are large gaps between some of the monitoring wells. 

McCall also mentioned the team was not granted access to some of Gelman’s samples, since Gelman monitored the pollutant at 1 part concentration per billion versus Tetra Tech’s .07 part concentration per billion. Their samples would have hopefully filled any gaps. 

“We wanted to split samples with Gelman and the reason we wanted to do that was because we wanted to use a different analytical method that would provide maybe some resolution to the data,” McCall said. “Unfortunately, we didn’t have access to those but that didn’t have an impact on our ability to come up with our recommendations.”

Steglitz wrapped up the presentation by sharing the projected costs of the wells, as well as a possible timeline for the project. 

“Our estimated costs for implementing the wells installation recommendations that we shared with you, three to four nesting wells, is approximately $300,000 or $400,000,” Steglitz said. “The expectation is that if we end up moving forward with this, we would be installing the wells some time in 2021 or 2022.”

When the event opened for discussion, Ann Arbor residents had many questions concerning costs, data and why the city is monitoring instead of starting to clean up the plume.

Savabieasfahani asked Steglitz why the researchers did not have access to Gelman’s data and if there was data missing from the presentation. 

“From what I’ve read, I can conclude that the data the (Michigan) Department of Environmental Quality has and the data that the city has, is quite incomplete,” Savabieasfahani said. “There are many wells that haven’t been tested, but they are in key positions and they have never been tested, is that correct?”

Steglitz said he did not know the answer to that question. 

Savabieasfahani continued, saying that creating more monitoring wells does not save or protect local waters. 

“That is not cleaning up our waters,” Savabieasfahani said. “I suggest that instead of spending more money, and putting more wells in… let us try cleaning it up. It’s been 50 years since the city of Ann Arbor and various council members have known about this pollution and it has not been cleaned up. Someone told me earlier ‘money talks’ and Gelman has gotten away with murder.” 

She told The Daily she was particularly angry with Gelman being called “the responsible party” instead of being called “criminals.” 

Councilmember Jeff Hayner, D-Ward 1, said he was concerned about the costs of the plan. 

“When I ran my own numbers on that it was not $400,000,” Hayner said. “Maybe it’s a different kind of well. But it just seemed like three times more than my initial estimates were for doing this.”

Ann Arbor resident Monica Zillich said she and neighbors are concerned with the wells being placed in their neighborhood. She also expressed concern as to why the community was not made aware their water may be polluted, and said she wanted the monitoring done before 2021.

“Why in the heck is this not being expedited?” Zillich said. “When people start knowing about these wells, and there are some folks that have been there for a long time, this isn’t going to sit well. And I know it’s not sitting well with anybody else because this is your drinking water.” 

Councilmember Kathy Griswold, D-Ward 2, was impressed with the audience’s knowledge regarding the Gelman Plume. She promised audience members that public engagement events are just one of the ways the city is trying to solve the issue. 

“We are still all discussing it in the courts with our lawyers and we are still discussing an EPA super fund,” Griswold said. “I know we can’t talk about it right now, but just know that I am thinking about it everyday. We’ve got the intelligence and we’ve got the passion, we can do this.” 

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