Last week, in a lawsuit filed against Pall
Life Sciences, a subsidiary of the New York based Pall Corporation,
the City of Ann Arbor is seeking financial restitution for damage
the company caused to a major local groundwater well. According to
the lawsuit, between the mid-1960s through the 1980s, the Life
Sciences group contaminated the well with 1,4 dioxane, a possible
human carcinogen and industrial solvent used in the manufacturing
of medical filters. Consequently, over 18 million square feet of
the dioxane contaminant is spreading under Ann Arbor’s
Veterans Memorial Park. While there is little threat of the
chemical spreading into the drinking water supply, the city is
still demanding that the damaged well be replaced. The lawsuit asks
that Pall Life Sciences pay not only for the costs associated with
finding a different water source, but also for a complete
assessment and treatment of the decades-old underground pollution

Mira Levitan

Pall Life Sciences has claimed that it has already performed
extensive clean-up operations in the area, citing the cleaning of
two billion gallons of ground water done in conjunction with the
state Department of Environmental Quality. However, while
Pall’s cooperation with the department is commendable, it is
simply not enough. Even though Pall cleaned billions of gallons of
water, they merely have scratched the surface of their mess. The
city is correct in its assertion that Pall should either finish the
job, or pay for someone else to do it for them.

The efforts of the city to actively pursue corporate polluters
should be applauded; by actively taking action against companies
that demonstrate little regard for the environment, Ann Arbor is
attempting to instill a sense of social and corporate
responsibility within the business community. Furthermore, a tough
stance against polluters shows that Ann Arbor will enthusiastically
and vigilantly protect its reputation as a “green
city,” an attitude that will hopefully keep the city healthy
and pollution in check for years to come.

In the larger scheme, Ann Arbor is setting an example for other
municipal governments by taking a more proactive role in
controlling local polluters. Reliance on federal bureaucracies such
as the Environmental Protection Agency to enforce environmental
standards often results in a slow, drawn-out process with no
guarantee of progress. Only at the local government level does
there exist the focus and dedication necessary to address local
environmental issues; large government agencies are simply too
impersonal and disconnected to tackle problems confined to small

If the Bush administration continues to cut the operating
budgets of regulatory agencies such as the Environmental Protection
Agency, there will undoubtedly be an increased reliance on
municipalities to solve environmental problems. Local governments
meet this burden by keeping their cities clean and pollution under
control. Using local court systems, cities should ensure that
environmental standards are upheld, and that corporations continue
to operate within the bounds of the law.

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