About 100 people attended a town hall meeting Thursday on the 1,4-Dioxane plume, a pocket of the toxic chemical dioxane, recently found in Ann Arbor shallow groundwater.


The meeting, held at Eberwhite Elementary, featured a panel of representatives from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and state Rep. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor).


Audience members were encouraged to ask questions via Twitter using the hashtag #DioxaneTownHall. City officials also walked around with comment cards for audience members to write questions and comments that would be addressed following the panel.


Between 1966 and 1989, Ann Arbor firm Gelman Sciences manufactured filters using dioxane — a potentially dangerous organic compound — which then seeped into the ground, creating a plume. Last week 1,4-Dioxane was discovered in shallow ground-water on the city’s west side.


Hours before the town hall meeting, MDEQ and the Governor’s Office issued new emergency rules on dioxane, reducing the allowable level in residential drinking water from 85 parts per billion to 7.2 parts per billion. The emergency rules, which will only be in place for 180 days, also established a new vapor intrusion screening level for dioxane now that it has been discovered in shallow ground water. According to the MDEQ, the department has been finding 1 to 3 parts per billion in the Ann Arbor water samples that do contain dioxane.



Thursday’s meeting began with presentations from MDEQ representatives, elaborating on the recent dioxane testing that has been done in Ann Arbor township. The representatives noted that homes located closer to Ann Arbor’s Waterworks park, located directly above the plume, were more likely to have groundwater seepage into their basement.


The MDEQ representatives were followed by a presentation from the MDHHS on some of the public health concerns related to the plume. A MDHHS representative told the audience that for physical contact with dioxane-contaminated water to be dangerous, there must be 23 hundred micrograms of dioxane per liter of water, and that a person would have to be in contact with the water for about 30 minutes and about 3000 square inches of skin would have to be exposed.


After the presentations, City Councilmember Chuck Warpehoski (D-Ward 5) asked U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) to say a few words. Earlier this week, Dingell penned a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency to ensure that the agency was engaged in efforts to address the plume.


Dingell told the audience that she came to the evening’s town hall to listen, and promised to follow the issue regularly. She also noted recent discussions around filing a petition for superfund status, meaning the EPA would be empowered to address the issue, removing jurisdiction from the MDEQ.


“There has been discussion of filing for a superfund site, and I will support the community in whatever decision they make, ” said Dingell.


During a closed-door special session of City Council Monday night, city officials began to explore the possibility of new legal actions against the original polluter that could bypass state environmental regulators. One of those options is pursuing a petition to the EPA for superfund status.


Irwin, who also spoke, told the attendees that the state needs to take the issue to court now, stating the new emergency rules give the state greater leverage to pursue legal action.


In the question and answer portion of the evening, many community members asked questions about potential health impacts of the plume.




While there was no toxicologist on the panel, Public Health Prof. Rita Loch-Caruso, who attended the event, stepped in to answer a few questions. After the town hall meeting, Loch-Caruso said she was pleased it took place, but wished more information had been provided.


“This was a great opportunity for the MDEQ to level with the people of Ann Arbor and really educate them on what is going on,” Loch-Caruso said. “Unfortunately, I think there was too much incomplete information.”


Warephoski, whose ward is impacted by the plume, said after the event that he organized it as an opportunity for the public to engage in conversation regarding the issue.


“I think there were a lot of people that were frustrated — I was frustrated — by the assurances, ‘Oh, everything is fine. Trust us.’ And given Flint, given everything else, we don’t trust, so I think there was a lot of frustration about that,” Warpehoski said.

The panel was not able to get through all the audience questions in the two-hour town hall. Audience members were instructed to send all unanswered questions to a link on the county website.

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