Local townships to petition the Environmental Protection Agency

Wednesday, October 26, 2016 - 7:40pm

Ann Arbor Township, Scio Township and the Sierra Club Huron Valley Group announced plans Wednesday to jointly petition the United States Environmental Protection Agency to investigate the Ann Arbor-based Gelmen Sciences, Inc. plant site.

Between 1966 and 1986, Gelman Sciences, Inc. produced filter devices that required the usage of dioxane, a carcinogenic toxin, as a solvent. Dioxane contact with soil, surface water and ground water has since led to public health concerns.

The 1,4-dioxane plume from the site is currently four miles long by one mile wide and extends from its source in Scio Township to Ann Arbor, where it has polluted local bodies of waters and drinking wells.

If the petition is approved, this would be the first step toward classifying the area as a USEPA Superfund Site — a designation that would empower the USEPA to manage the cleanup efforts following reports of groundwater contamination in Ann Arbor.  

Whether or not to seek superfund status was also up for debate last summer, causing Ann Arbor city officials to question the necessity of the USEPA’s involvement. The city itself was not a part of Wednesday's petition.

“The question of whether or not to seek Superfund status is a complicated one,” Ann Arbor Mayor Christopher Taylor said in a July interview. “If we were to seek superfund designation, we would probably require a large amount of community input and a full understanding of how successful (the) EPA has been with respect to other dioxane sites in Michigan, what we could hope to achieve by obtaining that designation and frankly, what risks we’d run by doing this.”

If the federal government intervenes, it would effectively override Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality as the agency currently charged with cleanup efforts.

Following a 1992 court decision and subsequent consent judgement, the burden of monitoring and managing the dioxane plume was the joint responsibility of the Pall Corporation, the corporate owners of Gelmen Sciences, Inc. and the state DEQ — entirely leaving out the city of Ann Arbor.

However, Michael Moran, the supervisor for Ann Arbor Charter Township, said this petition is necessary due to perceived DEQ failures.

“Local governments and community groups long have worked with the DEQ on remediation options for the Gelman site and a dioxane cleanup standard that protects human health and is consistent with EPA policy,” Moran said. “Unfortunately, DEQ has not demonstrated the capability or willingness to obtain a protective remedy in court that places the burden for cleanup squarely on the potentially responsible party.”

This sentiment was echoed by Spaulding Clark, the supervisor for Scio Township, who said the DEQ and agreement met does not prevent the dioxane from spreading to more water sources.

“USEPA can do a better job of cleanup than the DEQ. The group believes that the USEPA cleanup will be superior to the DEQ approach as USEPA will restore the polluted aquifer to a drinking water criterion, provide a Contingency Plan for Barton Pond, provide alternative potable water supplies now to potentially impact homes, and utilize a scientifically sound drinking water criterion,” Clark said.