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PART 16 July 29, 2016
David Fair (DF): Until 1995, the level of dioxane allowed in Michigan’s drinking water was only 3 ppb. Currently, it’s 85 ppb. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality has proposed a new, more protective standard at 7.2 parts per billion, still higher that pre-’95 levels. Our Barbara Lucas wonders, is that a safe level for children? Especially for households on well water in the path of Ann Arbor’s dioxane plume? That’s the focus of this 16th installment of WEMU’s Green Room series on the Ann Arbor Area’s 1,4-dioxane plume.
Christine Shroeder: It is a nice little tucked away neighborhood.
BL: We’re across Wagner Road from the former Gelman Sciences. The Westover Street neighborhood was hard hit when dioxane spread into wells here, beginning almost fifty years ago. Residents drank parts per billion of dioxane in the hundreds before being hooked up to city water in the 1990s.
Shroeder: I was thrilled to find a house here.
BL: Christine Schroeder is a former resident of the street. Last week over coffee, she offered to contact her old neighbors.
Shroeder: I would like to know the long term effects of this. I would like to know how it's affected the people that I lived close to.
Knocking. Dog barking.
BL: But no one answers the doors we knock on, except at one house, and they don’t want to talk on the record.
Shroeder: Do you remember me—Chris—I used to live next door? How are you?
BL: They tell us about a 1991 lawsuit. Families tried to get Gelman to pay for the costs of monitoring their children’s health. They lost. Apparently, the judge threw out the case in five minutes. Chris says that by the time she moved to the neighborhood in 1997…
Schroeder: It astounded me that it was kind of hush-hush. There was no organization within the neighborhood to question or to push or to find out really how this would affect us.
BL: Should there be follow-up of people who drank dioxane at high levels, especially of those exposed when young, considering the vulnerability of children’s developing bodies? Speaking at a town hall meeting in April, here’s Bob Wagner of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.
Bob Wagner: Body weight matters with respect to exposure to any chemical.
BL: Wagner says when calculating safe levels, although Michigan uses an average weight of 80 Kg—or 176 pounds—the proposed 7.2 drinking water standard is protective of children.
Wagner: So we account for those age categories in terms of the child receptor, and we also look at their ingestion rate of water, because it is different than adults. I just wanted you to know that is all part of the calculation of the 7.2. We can give you all of those details.
BL: We know that children need more water in proportion to their body weight than do adults. And their bodies are smaller. Yet, the number proposed in Michigan is double the federal recommendations for the same risk level. The logic didn’t make sense to some in the town hall audience.
Attendee: That’s really kind of fudging it isn’t it? Because the way you are calculating it doesn’t account for the fact that toxins almost always affect children more.
Attendee: We need to be looking at pushing the limits lower. The rest of the world is using 1 to 3 ppb, and in places under 1 ppb, for drinking water. The average weight that was given here—80 kilos—that’s 176 pounds and I can’t imagine a child being at that average weight for the entirety of their childhood!
BL: The proposed 7.2 number is far lower than Michigan’s current 85 ppb limit. But to some, it still looks sky high. Trevor Weigle is Health Officer near a landfill leaching dioxane in Mt. Olive, New Jersey. Last year New Jersey’s allowable dioxane level went from 3 to only .4 ppb.
Trevor Weigle: I don’t know why someone would adopt a less stringent level than the federal government does. How can you say, “I don’t think it’s as bad as the federal government does”?
Barbara Lucas, 89 One, WEMU News.
PART 17 August 12, 2016
David Fair: For three decades, Ann Arbor’s clean-up strategy for the expanding 1,4-dioxane plume has been negotiated between the state and the polluter. The judge in the case has barred all others from having a voice in the court proceedings. Should the City of Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County be party to the discussions? That’s the focus of this 17th segment of WEMU’s series in ‘The Green Room.”
Kerrytown bells ringing. Traffic sounds in background.
Evan Pratt: It’s just a little four-page form.
Barbara Lucas (BL): I’m with Evan Pratt, Washtenaw County Water Resources Commissioner. We’re at a café in Kerrytown, a few blocks northeast of the dioxane plume which is under the city. On August 3rd, the County Board of Commissioners voted to pursue application for Superfund designation.
Pratt: The form is fairly simple.
BL: He reads off the questions.
Pratt: And finally, and this is the key question that the EPA suggested might disqualify us.
BL: Pratt says this one arose in Chicago, back on July 25th, when the city, county, and state met with the Environmental Protection Agency to explore the possibility of applying for Superfund status.
Pratt: The folks from the EPA several times mentioned that the site was not a good candidate because there already was a cleanup in progress, a regulatory authority, there was a responsible party—which means a viable business with money.
BL: He says the EPA informed them Superfund usually is only for orphan sites where the polluter is unknown or bankrupt, but that there have been exceptions.
Pratt: The Responsible Party—you know, the folks paying for the cleanup—as well as the regulatory agency, would both need to provide something in writing to the EPA that basically says ‘we give up and we want the EPA to take over from us.’
BL: What does the Responsible Party think about the Superfund question? No one is talking to the press. Not Pall Corporation, which inherited the problem when it bought Gelman Sciences in 1997. Nor Danaher, which is now Pall Corporation’s parent company. Neither attend public meetings. The situation is not working for Pratt.
Pratt: So, to date, over the thirty-year history, there’s been a feeling in the area that what’s been mutually acceptable to the DEQ and to the Responsible Party is NOT acceptable to local units of government. So, in my mind, it is vitally important to be in the room at that negotiation session before a new consent judgment is signed.
BL: A new strategy will have to be mapped out when the state adopts a more protective dioxane level, hopefully within the year.
Pratt: Right now, as we speak, the DEQ and the Responsible Party—Pall-Gelman-Danaher—they are having some type of meetings that can’t be disclosed because they are confidential.
BL: A few blocks away at his law office, Ann Arbor Mayor Christopher Taylor would also like to see local governments weigh in. He points out these decisions concern not only citizen health, but the city water infrastructure. When wells in the townships get contaminated with dioxane, they must be hooked up to city water.
Mayor Taylor: So it’s very important for all these reasons that we be at the table.
BL: I mention potential costs of getting the city into the litigation.
Taylor: We are in it! There’s no getting away from it. I would love to not be involved in it. We have a plume of a carcinogen underneath the city that is in a place that is a long-term risk for us. We need to address it.
BL: Taylor recently met with Governor Rick Synder in Lansing to discuss the dioxane situation. He asked the governor to support the city’s participation in the case.
Taylor: He did say that seemed like a reasonable request and he said he would circle up with his legal team and see if that was something he could personally support.
BL: U.S. Congresswoman Debbie Dingell is calling for a meeting of principles to discuss the Superfund question—ideally including the Responsible Party. Will they come out from behind closed doors? And at the same time, will the county and city be allowed to get past those same closed doors, and into court?
Barbara Lucas, 89 One, WEMU News.
PART18 August 19, 2016
David Fair: There is a court ordered consent judgment between the State of Michigan and Gelman Sciences when it comes to managing a 1,4-dioxane plume spreading through some of the area’s groundwater. Officially, the Responsible Party, as it’s called, is Gelman, which owned the Wagner road facility in Scio Township where the contamination plume originated. Gelman was bought out by Pall Corporation which has since been purchased by Washington D.C.-based Danaher. The legal judgment calls for the Responsible Party not to fully clean-up the chemical pollution, but to work to prevent it from spreading further. This is the 18th installment of our series on the Ann Arbor area’s 1,4-dioxame plume. This week in “The Green Room,” 89-1 WEMU’s Barbara Lucas looks at the call for raising the bar on that standard.
Mayor Taylor: Good evening everyone!
BL: On July 25th staff of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality met with the Ann Arbor City Council. Bob Wagner announced a new task force will be forming, with representation from the state, local government, citizens, and hopefully, representatives from the Responsible Party as well.
Bob Wagner: It would be most beneficial and useful if we could collectively agree on the best uses of this money.
BL: He’s referring to the $700,000 recently allocated by the Michigan legislature to spend on Ann Arbor’s dioxane plume. At first glance it sounds like a lot, but...
Wagner: You could spend the whole amount on monitoring wells. All of it.
BL: Some councilmembers don’t want to settle for just containing the pollution, instead of restoring the aquifer. Nor do they like the idea of taxpayer money being spent, on any of it. Councilwoman Sabra Briere.
Sabra Briere: It’s not, I think, that we want the state to pay for the cleanup, and it’s certainly not that we want the city to pay for the cleanup. It’s that we want the Responsible Party to actually do more than try to contain this flow.
BL: She says it’s obvious—from the spread of the plume—that containment isn’t working. Councilwoman Jane Lumm also asks if the Responsible Party can take on a bigger financial role.
Jane Lumm: Since Pall-Gelman has been acquired by—is a subsidiary of Danaher—and that’s a fortune 200 company.
BL: Indeed, Danaher has a market value of $65 billion. Here’s Councilman Jack Eaton.
Jack Eaton: Before we start spending the state’s $700,000 on monitoring wells, shouldn’t we encourage the company to incur that cost?
Dan Hamel: I believe that’s what we will be doing.
BL: That’s DEQ staffer Dan Hamel, who says he’s in day-to-day contact with Pall-Gelman. He says he’s looking forward to having the company meet with local government and residents directly.
Hamel: They will be there to hear first-hand, and have a dialogue.
BL: Bob Wagner says, as seen from the DEQ’s work elsewhere, public money can be leveraged.
Wagner: Basically is to say, “Well, what we’ve heard from you is you are not going to do what we’ve asked. So we are going to do it.” In most cases, that causes that party to do the work. That’s the leverage that we talked about. In some cases, they don’t do the work. When that happens, we go out and do the work and then we go back to the court and we seek recovery of those dollars.
BL: DEQ staffer Mitch Adelman adds that there’s a significant pot of money available, called the Financial Assurance Mechanism.
Mitch Adelman: The Gelman entity exists for the purposes of carrying out this remedy. The state has a letter of credit to the tune of over $28 million that we can access today, if the Gelman entity does not do what is required by the remediation.
BL: Adleman says when the State’s dioxane standard becomes more protective as expected by the end of the year, then the amount in the Financial Assurance Mechanism will need to be renegotiated.
Adleman: I think it stands to reason that a cleanup would be more costly based on that lower criterion.
BL: Regardless who pays, one thing’s for sure: raising the bar is going to be expensive.
Mayor Taylor: Public comment is closed, and we are adjourned.
Barbara Lucas, 89 One, WEMU News.
PART19 August 26, 2016
David Fair: This is 89-1 WEMU, and I’m David Fair. At first, the company responsible for Ann Arbor’s dioxane plume was far from silent. In the three decades since the pollution was first discovered there have been a lot of changes. At this point, Pall-Gelman chooses to have no contact with the public. How did we get here? That question is the focus Barbara Lucas’ report in this edition of “The Green Room.
Barbara Lucas (BL): Ken Garber wrote about Gelman Sciences for the Ann Arbor Observer from 1992 to ‘97.
Backpack zipper opens.
Ken Garber: I just reread them…
BL: You might think a story about groundwater pollution would be dry, but Garber’s articles are filled with drama, largely thanks to Gelman Sciences founder Chuck Gelman.
Garber: No one would dispute the fact that he was extremely confrontational, …especially after the state listed Gelman Sciences as the number two polluter in the state.
BL: That was in 1986.
Garber: He began a long campaign not only to fight the charges, but to discredit his perceived enemies.
BL: Apparently, Gelman’s fight took many forms: lawsuits, lobbyists, speeches, paid ads. Gelman even paid a University of Michigan professor $75,000 to write a book.
Garber: Gelman Sciences became a publishing house in order to produce a book on the risks and health effects of 1,4-dioxane.
BL: What did that 1989 book conclude was a safe level of dioxane for drinking water? 3,400 ppb. In the 1990s, changes in Michigan’s legislature went Gelman’s way, and the amount of dioxane allowed in water was increased over twenty-five-fold.
Garber: So the politics—the change in administration from Blanchard to Engler—definitely favored the corporate sector in terms of environmental legislation.
BL: But the lack of progress on the cleanup wasn’t appreciated by the feds.
Garber: The EPA was pretty close to putting its foot down and saying, ‘Enough of this dithering with no clean up all these years. We're going to step in and clean it up ourselves, and make the polluter pay for it under the Superfund law.’ And this may have been important in pressuring Gelman Sciences to finally come to a Consent Agreement with the state, so that there would be no federal EPA supervision, and the company could do the cleanup itself.
BL: Garber’s 1997 article introduces Kim Davis, who was CEO and President of Gelman Sciences for 5 years, during its sale to the Pall Corporation. Davis tried to mend bridges with the community. Here are clips from his comments at a 1995 public meeting.
Kim Davis: I personally wanted to begin the process repairing what I felt were damaged relationships with the community. And I wanted to re-establish Gelman Sciences as a good corporate citizen. …We are doing what we are doing because it is the right thing to do. …critically important that we begin remediation at the core area right now. Every day that we don't pump that water out it and treat it, the problem gets worse and I'm not going to tolerate that anymore. …Now further, I’ve agreed to chair an ongoing working group which is going to include township residents and township trustees. …And we are proud to be here together to solicit public comment on the proposal to the MDEQ.
BL: But efforts to clean up the dioxane were less successful than Davis had hoped. His task force disbanded. Davis left Gelman Sciences in 1998.
Garber: Twenty-four years after I started reporting on this issue, it's not only not resolved, but it's actually worse. And that strikes me as a huge failure on our part, everyone's part—the public, the public officials, news media, the corporate people who are now technically responsible for the pollution, regulators—we've all failed the community. …Can't we do better than this?
Barbara Lucas, 89 One, WEMU.
PART 20 September 9, 2016
David Fair (DF): This is 89-1 WEMU, and I’m David Fair. Gelman Sciences was once a bustling company, employing hundreds at its Wagner Road Facility in Scio Township. That’s where a spreading chemical plume began and continues to contaminate groundwater through a good portion of Ann Arbor. The business has since been sold, twice, and is now closed save the few employees still charged with clean-up of the contamination. In WEMU’s 20th installment of our series on the Ann Arbor Area’s 1,4-dioxane plume, Barbara Lucas looks at the potential impacts of the situation on the future of our local economy, as we return to 'The Green Room.'
Barbara Lucas (BL): I’m looking at a 1994 letter Charles Gelman wrote to then-governor John Engler. Some highlights:
"Governor Engler, our company has contributed to the well-being of this state. We are increasing the number of jobs in the State of Michigan… We’ve spent $15 million on this issue... We were nearly driven out of business... It is time that the Michigan Health Department reconsider the risk of 1,4-dioxane."
Sure enough, the following year, Michigan’s dioxane standard was raised from 3 ppb to a whopping 77 ppb. And five years later, it was raised even more, to 85 ppb, where it stands today. The decision to allow such high levels of dioxane in drinking water doesn’t set well with Matt Greff. Matt and his wife Rene own Arbor Brewing Company.
Background sound from workers brewing beer at Arbor Brewing Company.
Matt Greff: It was a short-sighted way to look at helping businesses.
BL: The beer at their Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti breweries is made with City of Ann Arbor water.
Greff: Yeah, you’ve helped some businesses and now you could be jeopardizing a lot more businesses than the single businesses you were helping.
BL: When he’s on sales calls out of state…
Matt Greff: I cannot tell you how many times people make a comment like, 'I hope you aren’t using that Flint water.' That’s where branding or marketing—Ann Arbor needs to be very careful that you don’t get marked as some place like that. …So I think it’s really important that we get a grip on this and get it taken care of before we have a pretty major real and perceived problem.
Background sound of Town Hall meeting.
BL: Stephen Lange Ranzini is President and CEO of University Bank, which he says…
Stephen Lange Ranzini: …has a tremendous investment—tens of millions of dollars—in homes and businesses in the exclusion zone.
BL: He’s speaking of the area above the contaminated plume, where contact with the groundwater is prohibited. He says the University of Michigan is the economic engine of the area.
Ranzini: So anything that damages the University could have a major impact on the vitality of our community in the future.
Burton Clock Tower chimes.
BL: What does the University think? U of M professor Dr. Allen Burton studies risks to aquatic ecosystems.
Allen Burton: The University doesn’t have a position because it shouldn’t. We’re an institution of higher learning, just trying to gather all of the facts, to get them out there, to make good decisions with.
BL: But his guess is the plume will not drive people away. He says groundwater contamination is very common in urban environments.
Burton: So I find it difficult to believe that a plume of one chemical that has not been found to be in the drinking water is going to deter people from coming to Ann Arbor or having their students here.
BL: Dr. Burton says our region has sources of water pollution that he ranks much higher.
Burton: So we have to tackle the things that are causing the biggest problems. And it’s really simple stuff. And it’s not dioxane.
BL: He says the main culprit is runoff (laden with pesticides, fertilizers, metals and other pollutants) from urban areas and, even more so, from farms—which is politically challenging to change.
Burton: It’s really sad. I want clean water, more than anything. That’s all I care about. I want to be fishing in a trout stream, where things are good.
BL: How much of a threat the dioxane plume poses to Ann Arbor is uncertain. But there’s consensus that as a state, we need to keep “Pure Michigan” water pure.
Barbara Lucas, 89 One, WEMU.