By Lonnie Huhman,
Concerns over the 1, 4-dioxane plume, which is impacting parts of Scio Township, have reached a point where many in the impacted area are calling on their local government representatives to appeal to the Federal government for help.
Specifically, many are calling for the plume to be designated as a Superfund cleanup site and for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to come in to help lead its cleanup.
According to the EPA’s website, the, “Superfund program is responsible for cleaning up some of the nation’s most contaminated land and responding to environmental emergencies, oil spills and natural disasters. To protect public health and the environment, the Superfund program focuses on making a visible and lasting difference in communities, ensuring that people can live and work in healthy, vibrant places.”
However, a request for that designation will have to wait, at least a few months, and in the meantime the litigation for Scio Township and its partners will continue.
That was one of the main takeaways from the Special Joint Working Session held on June 6 between the Ann Arbor City Council, Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners, Ann Arbor Charter Township Board of Trustees, and Scio Township Board of Trustees. The meeting was held at the MI-HQ, Michigan Innovation Headquarters and 2|42 Church, which is in the area where the contamination began.
The meeting included a closed session for those involved in pending litigation over this issue.
Another takeaway is that the communities involved want to be on the same page toward a solution.
According to the Washtenaw County Health Department’s website, “the 1,4-dioxane contamination is not a new problem.”
“From 1966 until 1986, Gelman Sciences (later Pall Corporation and now Danaher) used 1,4-dioxane in their manufacturing process,” the county health department said. “In 1985, 1,4-dioxane was discovered in residential drinking water wells in the area. Unfortunately, 1,4-dioxane does not break down quickly in water. A large plume still exists underground in the soil and water, even after all this time.
A plume happens when a chemical is moving underground in soil or water. In this case, the chemical 1,4-dioxane is moving through groundwater.”
The EPA has stated that 1,4-Dioxane is likely human carcinogen.
Some recent reports state the plume is still growing and said it could potentially impact even more of the city of Ann Arbor’s water.
The history of the litigation with this issue is a long one and according to Washtenaw County the state of Michigan has for decades separately litigated against, and otherwise regulated, Gelman to enforce state environmental laws that apply to the contamination and following the state’s tightening of its standards for Dioxane groundwater pollution, and as part of the county’s continuing efforts, it, along with the city of Ann Arbor, Scio Township, the Huron River Watershed Council and the Sierra Club, intervened in the state’s ongoing lawsuit against Gelman pending in the Washtenaw County Trial Court.
The ultimate goal of Scio Township and its partners in litigation is to see quicker progress in slowing and stopping the contamination plume, and hopefully, ultimately having it cleaned up.
In follow up to the meeting, The Sun Times News reached out to Scio Township Supervisor Jack Knowles about the next steps and what came out of the closed session.
“The results of the discussions were that we gave our legal counsel specific instructions for further negotiations with the lawsuit,” Knowles said. “We will then reconvene in 90 days to review what has transpired. I really cannot say much more than that.”
Jason Maciejewski, Washtenaw County Commissioner, District 1, who represents Scio, echoed this and said, “We have instructed our attorneys to take particular actions on the lawsuit. We will reconvene as a group in September.”
During the special meeting, Maciejewski said the situation is at a critical point and those being impacted by the contamination need to come together to help move the situation in a positive way forward.
The special meeting was a good and long one that had various people voicing their opinions, including Scio Township resident Roger Rayle, who for over two decades has been an advocate for the cleanup of the plume and is part of such groups as Coalition for Action on Remediation of Dioxane (CARD) and Scio Residents for Safe Water.
Rayle gave a brief history example of what motivated him to get and stay involved, and why he thinks now they must get the EPA involved. He said for a long time he has seen Gelman not fulfilling its end of the cleanup bargain.
He said he was happy to see the special meeting held.
“It’s high time that we get this right and get the EPA,” he said during public comment, which was the opinion of nearly everyone who spoke during public comment.
During discussion by the government representatives, Scio Township board members Kathy Knol and Christine Green gave some of their views.
Green, in thanking the 200 or so people gathered inside the 2|42 auditorium for coming to the meeting, said, “We do share your frustration and I’m very sorry it’s taken so long.”
She said for decades they relied on the state government and department of environmental quality to get Gelman to properly address contamination, but that hasn’t happened. She said this in part led Scio to join the other parties as interveners in the consent judgment case.
From her view, she said they are working hard on the case and believe there are some recent factors, including a new governor, which could help push the case in a better direction. She said they want to pursue all options, but need to move cautiously forward because of the litigation and in an effort to keep everyone on the same page.
Knol, who is also the township representative on CARD, said through this group she has had an up close look at the progress or lack of progress on the plume issue.
She said although the Scio Township Board hasn’t taken an official position yet on asking the EPA, she does have a personal view.
“My opinion is that it’s time to move forward with the EPA and request the next steps for Superfund consideration,” she said. “As elected officials we have a responsibility here and it’s time we step up to the plate.”
The EPA has taken a preliminary look at the situation, after being asked by Scio and others to do so, but for it to move forward all the way the governor would need to petition it to do so. This decision by the governor would probably only come after the local governments impacted by the situation asked for this to be done.
There were general views around requesting the EPA’s help, such as: maybe now with the EPA involvement the plume could be properly addressed while another take agreed with that, but also wants to hold the contaminator accountable.
Other views around this were asking what would designating the area as a Superfund site mean for property values and would the EPA be able to fully address the situation.
In follow up to the meeting, Rayle went to the Scio Township Board meeting on June 11. He said the special meeting was historic because it was the first time he saw all of the parties together and looking to present a unified front, which he said is what is needed.
However, Rayle said he’s a little disappointed in the special meeting’s outcome because he thought the citizenry had made it clear during public comment they want to see the EPA involved rather than continuing on the slogging along path that the communities have been on with Gelman in the courts for the past 30 years.
He said it’s basically a Superfund site already and just needs the official designation, and it’s time to get some proper help and get the contaminator to do what they need to do.