NewsRegionWashtenaw County

Push for EPA Superfund status intensifies as groundwater contamination plume spreads

Posted at 6:47 PM, Oct 05, 2022
and last updated 2022-10-06 06:13:46-04

SCIO TOWNSHIP, Mich (WXYZ) — "At this point, we're concerned it will affect the value of the property but more concerned that it will start affecting people's health," Elaine Brock said outside her home in Scio Township, near Ann Arbor.

Brock is one of a number of Scio Township residents whose well was recently tested for 1, 4 Dioxane. And while the amount detected was so low, far below the level the State of Michigan has deemed acceptable, it's still very concerning to citizen activists and township officials who feared the Gelman contamination plume was spreading.

Brock, an attorney who once served as chairperson for the Washtenaw County Board of Health, said decades ago when the groundwater contamination was first discovered by University of Michigan graduate student Dan Bicknell, no one thought it would reach the city of Ann Arbor. But it has.

In the 1980s, Bicknell discovered and brought attention to what was happening at Gelman Sciences on South Wagner Road near Liberty Road.

Gelman had been releasing unregulated waste on their property and in it was 1, 4 dioxane, a likely human carcinogen.

Recent testing conducted by Scio Township shows the plume is continuing to spread.

"Right now we have enough evidence, enough data to show that the dioxane has spread much further north than was known just a short time ago," Scio Township Supervisor William Hathaway told 7 Action News Wednesday.

Congresswoman Debbie Dingell is working to get the EPA to designate the contamination site and plume area designated a Superfund site.

"At some point, this plume has to get cleaned up," Dingell said. "And I believe that the polluter has deliberately used pitting communities against each other and delay tactics. The State of Michigan needs to pass the bill that holds polluters accountable. Polluters should pay for their pollution."

But there has been some pushback to any Superfund designation in the Ann Arbor area, fearing it'll bring some sort of stigma that could negatively impact the Washtenaw County communities including Ann Arbor.

Ann Arbor City Councilwoman Kathy Griswold strongly disagrees.

"If you have pollution, that's where you have the stigma. Once you start cleaning it up effectively under Superfund status, that stigma goes away."

The Gelman facility, now owned by the Danaher Corporation, only exists to treat contaminated water as directed by a court order.

An attorney for the company recently told 7 Action News that Gelman is in compliance with all of its obligations under a consent judgment.

When asked how she would describe Gelman in their handling of the litigation and cleanup, Scio Township Trustee Kathy Knol calls Gelman "obstructionists."

Knol believes that Gelman has not done all that they can do. She, too, is hoping for greater EPA involvement through the Superfund program.

"I hope they decide to step in and have meaningful oversight," Knol added.