Prompted by the Flint water crisis, City Council passed a resolution demanding greater state action on Ann Arbor’s own water issues during their meeting Monday night.
Concerns about water issues in Ann Arbor have been amplified in light of the recent crisis in Flint, where residents have been drinking and using water that has been contaminated with lead for several months. The crisis has sparked national attention and concern.
Ann Arbor’s water problems stem from a different contaminant — dioxane. From 1966 to 1986, Gelman Sciences of Ann Arbor manufactured medical filters using 1,4-dioxane, leaving a slow-moving plume of contaminated groundwater that has since led to the closure of 120 private wells. Some models also suggest that the plume may eventually reach the Huron River and Ann Arbor’s primary water source, Barton Pond.
Since 1992, Gelman and its successor corporations — in conjunction with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality — have been responsible for the monitoring and cleanup of the plume. During that time, no contamination of public water sources has been detected.
According to the EPA, dioxin, the result of dioxane, is a known carcinogen.
During Monday’s meeting Monday, Councilmember Chip Smith (D–Ward 5) proposed a resolution calling for the DEQ to revise its cleanup standards — currently at 85 parts per billion of dioxane in groundwater — to be in line with the Environmental Protection Agency’s guideline of 3.5 parts per billion. The city had been pushing for this change since 2013, and the resolution was passed unanimously.
Smith said he thinks the resolution will help the state of Michigan and the city of Ann Arbor get cleaner and safer water for its residents.
“Our state standard is so far out of whack with acceptable science that this change is a considerable change for the state to make.” he said. “What’s happening in Flint is a tragedy, and we don’t want to have a tragedy here by not working with the DEQ and bringing these things to the forefront.”
During public commentary, several residents expressed concern about a lack of disclosure by City Council regarding water issues occurring in Ann Arbor.
Ann Arbor resident Jeff Hayner said it is inevitable that pollution will reach the Huron River. Quoting “Plateau” by Meat Puppets, he criticized the city of Ann Arbor for failing to fulfill its duties to its residents and act in response to unclean water.
“Who needs action when you’ve got words?” Hayner asked.
Councilmember Kirk Wesphal (D–Ward 2) said there was a need to recognize and improve Ann Arbor’s situation.
“There seems to be a lot of energy in the community to want to highlight this issue and work on it,” he said.
In response to concerns, Interim City Administrator Tom Crawford said City Council is working on guaranteeing safe and clean drinking water for the residents of Ann Arbor, and will continue to do so when the DEQ revises its standards.
Correction appended: A previous version of this article identified “Plateau” as a Nirvana song. “Plateau” is a song by the band Meat Puppets.