Ann Arbor township, Sierra Club want toxic plume declared federal cleanup site
Ann Arbor — Local officials and members of the Sierra Club’s Huron Valley Group are asking the federal government to declare as a Superfund site a toxic groundwater plume in the Ann Arbor area — a move they hope will bring federal dollars to a decades-long problem.
Groundwater in portions of Ann Arbor and nearby townships is tainted by suspected carcinogen 1,4-dioxane — a remnant of industrial processes at the former Gelman Sciences Inc. plant on the city’s west side. In recent months, the contamination has spread into new places, including shallow groundwater near Slauson Middle School.
On Monday, Ann Arbor township and Sierra Club officials filed a petition asking the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to place the contaminated plume on the Superfund list — a designation for sites heavily contaminated by hazardous pollutants. The petition asserts that Michigan Department of Environmental Quality officials have failed to address the growing problem as required by a 1992 consent judgment.
“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,” said Michael Moran, an Ann Arbor Township supervisor, in a statement released Monday. “Unfortunately, DEQ has not demonstrated the capability or willingness to obtain a protective remedy in court that places the burden for clean-up squarely on the potentially responsible party.”
Starting in 1966, Gelman Sciences made medical filters, a process which involved the use of 1,4-dioxane as a solvent. A failure to properly dispose of the material over 20 years led to groundwater contamination. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, dioxane affects the central nervous system, kidney and liver, and is classified as “possibly carcinogenic to humans.”
The plume has migrated two miles from the original contamination site and is now a potential threat to private well, as well as the Huron River — the source of Ann Arbor’s municipal drinking water.
“The Sierra Club believes as in Flint, Michigan, that due to lax DEQ enforcement, the USEPA is required to assist the local community with this large groundwater contamination which presents an imminent and substantial endangerment to public health and the environment,” said Nancy Shiffler, chair of the Sierra Club’s Huron Valley Group.
The EPA is awaiting receipt of the request.
“We are aware of the petition but we have not received it yet,” said Rachel Bassler, a press officer for EPA’s Region 5 office. “Once we officially receive it, we will review and respond.”