Gelman Sciences, Inc. challenges the verdict in Ann Arbor water pollution case

Sunday, May 7, 2017 - 6:20pm

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Emma Richter/Daily

 

Gelman Sciences, Inc. — the center of the dioxane plume controversy — is currently contesting the judicial decision to allow local governments to intervene in the case.

From the 1960s to the 1980s, the company, a manufacturer of medical filters and chemical products, discharged large amounts of dioxane on the border between Ann Arbor and Scio Township.

In the decades following the discovery of the toxic component in Ann Arbor’s groundwater, the company settled a variety of lawsuits and amendments with the state of Michigan, the most recent of which occurred in 2011.

In the past, previous settlements between Gelman Sciences and the state of Michigan were negotiated exclusively through the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, the state’s agency responsible for “promoting wise management of Michigan’s air, land and water resources.”

After a December hearing, however, Washtenaw County Circuit Judge Tim Connor allowed six new stakeholders to intervene in the legal case between the state and Gelman Sciences: Washtenaw County, the county health department, the county health officer, the city of Ann Arbor, Scio Township and the Watershed Council.

In documents filed with the Court of Appeals on April 6, Michael Caldwell, the attorney representing Gelman Sciences, argued Connor’s decision to allow local intervention in the case is detrimental to negotiations, according to MLive

“Here, MDEQ has been diligently prosecuting this enforcement action, including spending over a year negotiating an amended consent judgement with Gelman Sciences, Inc.” Caldwell wrote. “However, the trial court expressly said ‘so what’ when faced with these statutory limitations, instead letting six new parties intervene.”

In addition, Caldwell argued Michigan’s Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act prohibits the involvement of local governments when a party is already negotiating with a state-recognized agency such as the MDEQ.

The city of Ann Arbor argued the act cannot speak louder than the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which state a party may intervene if they have a well founded interest. 

In its Title IV, Rule 24, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure states “the court must permit anyone to intervene who (1) is given an unconditional right to intervene by a federal statute; or (2) who claims an interest relating to the property or transaction that is the subject of the action … unless existing parties adequately represent that interest.”

Connor’s decision comes in light of the MDEQ’s and Gov. Rick Snyder’s recently issued emergency rules, which seek to revise measures taken to protect the state’s water and public health. Amid the new measures, the state is attempting to lower the amount of dioxane allowed in residential drinking from 85 parts per billion to 7.2 ppb, in addition to introducing a new vapor-intrusion screening level of 29 ppb.

The plume has led to the closure of more than 100 private residential wells in the area; there is also fear it will reach the Huron River in the future. In fall 2016, residents expressed concern that contaminated water may enter their basements. 

Engineering sophomore Noriyuki Kojima discussed the water-pollution problem caused by Gelman Sciences, Inc., as well as the company’s attempts to prevent local governments from getting involved.

“Frankly, it is a shame that the city of Ann Arbor and its people have to deal with the burdens caused by Gelman Sciences,” he said. “I hope students can help in some way with this situation, maybe by coming together and creating innovative systems for depolluting contaminated water.”