In a 97-page court filing Monday, the city of Ann Arbor argued state regulators and Pall Corporation systematically failed to control a local contaminated plume of groundwater and motioned to intervene as a plaintiff in a 24-year-old legal settlement on the plume.
Improper wastewater disposal by the Ann Arbor-based filter manufacturer Gelman Sciences — which was later purchased by Pall Sciences — from 1966 to 1986 has created a large, slow-moving mass of carcinogenic groundwater beneath the city of Ann Arbor, Scio Township and Ann Arbor Township. The plume has contaminated drinking wells and potentially threatens the city’s water supply at Barton Pond.
The Michigan Attorney General secured a consent judgment against the polluter in 1994 to govern monitoring and remediation of the contamination, with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and the Pall Corporation overseeing a network of monitoring wells. However, local residents have long said they’ve felt the measures to be insufficient and have taken issue with the fact that the city was denied status as a plaintiff in court, depriving it of the ability to directly negotiate.
Public scrutiny on the issues was re-energized following revelations of MDEQ failures surrounding the Flint water crisis in 2015 and the October discovery of shallow groundwater dioxane contamination on Ann Arbor’s west side, which prompted concerns of direct human contact to the carcinogen due to seepage of groundwater into basements.
In the city’s legal brief — which was filed with the Washtenaw County Circuit Court — the city attorney’s office argued that the state of Michigan has failed to adequately protect Ann Arbor’s interests in court while also alleging Pall Corporation had breached its settlement agreements in failing to control the spread of the contamination.
“The State of Michigan does not adequately represent the City’s interest in this matter,” the brief read. “Unfortunately, to date, MDEQ has allowed 1,4 dioxane plumes to continue to spread through Ann Arbor and surrounding communities, and has allowed Defendant to first breach its promise to fully cleanup the pollution, and later contain it.”
The brief also argued it is crucial that Ann Arbor is able to negotiate as a plaintiff as the consent judgment will likely be renegotiated following an emergency October ruling from MDEQ lowering the cleanup standard for 1,4-dioxane from 85 parts per billion in groundwater to 7.2 parts per billion. Under Environmental Protection Agency guidelines, 1,4-dioxane carries carcinogenic risk at a concentration of 3.5 parts per billion.
“Any further consideration of remedy or remediation … should not be conducted without Ann Arbor’s participation, to protect its interest and the interest of its citizens in the use of groundwater for its municipal water system, and its interest as a provider of municipal water to any households and/or businesses that must abandon the use of wells because of the continued migration of contaminated groundwater,” the brief reads.
Ann Arbor Mayor Christopher Taylor echoed many of the city attorney’s points in an interview on Wednesday.
“The current remediation plan is not focused on the new standard of 7.2 parts per billion,” Taylor said. “The city wants to have a seat at the table so we can hopefully arrive at an agreed-upon remediation plan.”
When asked for comment, the city attorney’s office, the city’s environmental director and the state attorney general’s office declined to comment on the pending legal action. Pall Corporation also did not respond to a request for comment.
According to the circuit court, a hearing on the motion is set for 9 a.m. on Dec. 1.