The city of Ann Arbor, Washtenaw County, Scio Township and the Huron River Watershed Council will be allowed to continue their case against Gelman Sciences, Inc., the Michigan Supreme Court ruled in an order on Jan. 12.
After Washtenaw County Circuit Court Judge Tim Connors ruled the jurisdictions and the Watershed Council could join the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality as co-plaintiffs in December, Gelman Sciences fought the decision unsuccessfully in the Michigan Court of Appeals, ultimately landing the suit in the state Supreme Court.
“The application for leave to appeal the July 14, 2017 order of the Court of Appeals is considered, and it is DENIED, because we are not persuaded that the questions presented should be reviewed by this Court,” the Supreme Court order read.
Ann Arbor City Councilmember Zachary Ackerman (D-Ward 3) welcomed the Supreme Court’s decision. He said the community would be fighting for a full cleanup of the dioxane to prevent it from entering the Huron River. This challenges the recently-imposed state requirement that Gelman Sciences keeps the concentration of the chemical below 7.2 parts per billion, which is still more than twice as high as the Environmental Protection Agency’s posted concentration for carcinogenic risk.
“I think it’s expressly the goal of the community to fight for full cleanup, and I’m excited that Ann Arbor will have the opportunity to fight to protect the drinking water of the residents we’re sworn to protect,” Ackerman said.
The Ann Arbor City Attorney’s Office declined to provide comment, based on the fact that the litigation between the parties was ongoing.
Gelman Sciences has previously acted in attempt to negotiate solely with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, which may more likely to settle for a smaller cleanup than the local jurisdictions. Laura Rubin, the executive director of the Huron River Watershed Council, said examples like the Flint water crisis indicated the agency may not be tough enough on similar environmental issues.
“I think, like many of the other partners, we were unhappy with how things were going with the cleanup –– 30 years later and we still have this plume,” Rubin said.
“And I think also, there’s no question that Flint and the Toledo water crises have opened everybody’s eyes to sort of reanalyzing whether the DEQ and regulatory authorities are really doing enough on these kinds of issues, and so that sparked us to start asking harder questions.”
Rubin said it was unusual an environmental nonprofit like the Watershed Council got a standing in such a case, and it faced challenges such as Attorney General Bill Schuette explicitly arguing against its intervention. She believes Supreme Court’s decision set an encouraging precedent.
“I think it does open up more cases like this, for environmental groups to come in, and I see that as a huge victory because in this political climate, environmental regulations and policies are being de-emphasized,” Rubin said. “And I think that going forward, the role of environmental groups, citizens, scientists and local governments is one that is going to have to step up and be more of a watchdog and invest more in monitoring.”