Transcripts 21-25

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PART 21  September 23, 2016 

David Fair: This is 89.1 WEMU, I’m David Fair and welcome to “The Green Room.”  For three decades, portions of Ann Arbor’s groundwater have been contaminated by 1,4 dioxane. The source is the old Gelman Sciences facility in Scio Township. In this 21st installment in our ongoing series on the Ann Arbor area’s contamination plume, Barbara Lucas takes you back inside “The Green Room” to explore the role persistence plays in the situation—past, present and future. 

Street sounds.

Barbara Lucas (BL):  It’s been 23 years now that Ann Arbor resident Roger Rayle has tracked the Gelman plume.  He uses cutting-edge computer graphics to illustrate the plume’s expansion.  One of his illustrations is hanging at the Ann Arbor Art Center. It’s in an exhibit celebrating ordinary citizens speaking out for change.  We’re downtown Ann Arbor, walking to the gallery.

Roger Rayle:  There were some internal whistleblowers who didn't get listened to until Dan Bicknell, as an outsider, blew the whistle and had the persistence to stay with it. 

BL:  He’s referring to graduate student Dan Bicknell’s relentless insistence in the mid-1980s—in the face of enormous opposition—that dioxane from Gelman Sciences was escaping into the environment.

Rayle:  Where would we be if Dan hadn't done that? They could've still been using it for another 20 years before it showed up anywhere!

Art Center door opening. Footsteps up the creaky wooden staircase. 

BL:  On the second floor of the Art Center, there’s his map, hanging in a corner. 

Rayle:  Here it is, basically a Google Earth screenshot.

Sounds of video art, visitors to the gallery, etc. in the background. 

BL:  Easy to overlook amongst the sights and sounds of avant-garde art, it belies the mountains of data points and decades of drama regarding the spreading plume.  For instance, the discovery in 2000 of the “E-Plume”—an additional 2 miles of contamination, previously unknown.  Rayle says the company had asserted that deep aquifer was protected from the dioxane above by a layer of clay.

Rayle:   But there are holes in that layer. 

BL:   He says the citizen watchdogs noticed the company wasn’t going very deep when drilling monitor wells to check for contamination.  They worried: how did they know for sure the deep aquifer was protected by clay? 

Rayle:   So we advocated strongly that all new wells go at least to bedrock.  And sure enough they found some hits at these deeper levels.

BL:  Eventually, sample results reached over 4,000 ppb in the E-plume.

Rayle:  It was a real shock to everybody. 

BL:  He says if they’d been sampling at the deep levels from the start…

Rayle:  They might've prevented the contamination of the city’s supply well.

BL:  The Northwest Supply well supplied 5% of Ann Arbor’s drinking water before it was shut down.

Rayle:  So there was a lot of negligence on the part of the company and the state—the DNR and then later the DEQ—to not sample all of the layers so we could prevent more contamination.

BL:  Because the geology is so complex, it’s very hard to predict the movement of groundwater.  Could a major shock like this happen again?

Rayle: There's a lot of unknowns still. That's why it's so important to keep up with the monitoring, keep up with the data.

BL:  What does the latest data show?

Rayle:  Two wells that are at the boundary which were supposed to be non-detect… 

BL:  He says they’re now over 1 ppb.

Rayle:  So these are solid hits. 

BL:  He calls them “sentry” wells.

Rayle:  These sentry wells are canaries in the coal mine. If you find something going on there then you start worrying.

BL:  Being mortal, Roger Rayle can’t continue his totally volunteer watchdog role forever.  Will someone take his place when he’s gone?  He can only hope. 

Rayle:  We have to be as persistent as the compound we are trying to get cleaned up! Dioxane is very persistent. Once it gets anaerobic in the groundwater, basically it stays there forever. 

Footsteps down the art center stairs.  

Barbara Lucas, 89 One, WEMU.


PART 22 September 30, 2016 

David Fair:  Good morning, I’m David Fair and this is 89-1 WEMU’s “The Green Room.” We continue today with our series on the 1,4 dioxane plume that has contaminated groundwater in, and around, Ann Arbor.  In previous segments, we’ve made clear that court documents refer to “Gelman Sciences, Inc.” as the legal entity responsible for carrying out remediation.  Outside of court, however, names are used interchangeably for the “Responsible Party.” Those names include Pall, Pall-Gelman, Danaher or even Pall-Gelman-Danaher.  In this installment of “The Green Room,” Barbara Lucas tries to accurately identify the “Responsible Party.”

Barbara Lucas (BL):  After the dioxane pollution was first discovered in 1984, Gelman Sciences claimed the State of Michigan was responsible.  They said the state had sanctioned Gelman’s dioxane discharges.  But the state disagreed.  Nearly five years of court battles ended in a consent judgment, in 1992, which ordered Gelman to clean up the pollution.  But that didn’t settle the matter. 

Sounds of a community meeting.

BL:  Chatting with Ann Arbor resident Bob Bailey after a dioxane-criteria meeting, I learn something surprising. Gelman Sciences had pointed the finger at Dow Chemical? 

Bob Bailey:  I’m retired from Dow Chemical Company, where in 1984 or ‘85 Gelman called me about this pollution, asking for a bundle of money.  So I sent them off to administration. 

BL:  Why did they want a bundle of money? 

Bailey:  Because Dow was one of the companies who had sold them the dioxane.

BL: Apparently, Gelman claimed Dow failed to inform them that 1,4-dioxane is not biodegradable. The companies settled out of court.  Bailey says Dow gave them the money… 

Bailey:  On the condition that they forevermore be out of this problem. 

BL:  Chuck Gelman finally did manage to transfer the liability, when he sold the company to Pall Corporation in 1997.  As Pall spokesperson Farsad Fatouhi told Ann Arbor Business Magazine in 2005, Pall had the option to buy only the business without the environmental liability, but chose to buy the liability.  Quote: “After all, we are an infiltration company; cleanup is our job.” But in 2015, the business traded hands again, when Pall was purchased by the multi-national Danaher Corporation. 

Road noise.  Knocking.

BL:  I’m knocking at the door of the Pall Corporation on Wagner Road.  There’s not much here—a trailer next door to a chain link fence surrounding big metal boxes.  The manufacturing company that once employed hundreds is long gone—only a skeleton cleanup crew remains.  This makes some people nervous, including citizen watchdog Roger Rayle.

Roger Rayle:  So with Danaher, maybe they are going to set it up so they can walk away from that even—then the whole cost and risk will be transferred back to the taxpayers. 

BL:  Is that possible? 

Rayle:  Sure, GM did it.  They split the company, and the part that is doing the clean up has X-amount of dollars.  When that money runs out, there’s not going to be any more money. 

BL:  I thought Danaher was legally responsible. 

Rayle:  Yeah, but they could take Pall, split it into two parts, and you know, the part that is making money, they can still call “Pall,” the other part they can call “The Pall Cleanup,” and give them X-amount of dollars that will supposedly finish the cleanup, based on someone’s estimate—probably the lower of the estimates.  And then in ten or twenty years, whenever that money runs out, then you are left with this spreading plume that someone’s got to take care of.  And who do you think that’s going to have to be?  I mean we are already just twenty or thirty years into this and there's already two companies that have left the scene! Gelman is no longer Gelman, and Pall is really no longer Pall.

BL: What about the line of credit from Gelman Sciences that the State of Michigan holds?  Over $28 million is in the bank for the state to use if the polluter doesn’t fulfill its obligations.  It’s called the Financial Assurance Mechanism.  But Rayle is not assured.  He thinks the amount stashed is paltry compared to the enormity of the task.

Rayle:  And then when that money runs out, costs and risks are going to be transferred back to the public. Whatever shell company is left at that point will just declare bankruptcy and it's going to stuck back to the public.

BL: Ann Arbor Mayor Christopher Taylor is not as concerned the responsible party might walk away. 

Mayor Taylor:  There’s not a lot of discretion here.  If the case reopens, at some point the judge is going to rule, and that will be the party’s obligation to follow that rule. 

BL:  And if Danaher sells, Taylor says the obligation will be in the buyer’s hands.  OK, so where does the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality think the liability lies?  After all, they’re the government entity that deals with the polluter in court.   Ann Arbor City Councilmember Sumi Kalisapathy asked Robert Wagner, Program Deputy Director of the DEQ. 

Sumi Kalisapathy: So, Danaher is the successor corporation, right?  The 1,4-Dioxane liability right now is on Danaher’s balance sheet, correct?

Robert Wagner:  That’s a good question and it kind of depends on whether you are looking at this from a legal liability, or you’re looking at this from business, corporate liability… 

Kalisapathy:  Business.  Corporate liability.  Balance sheet. 

Wagner:   Yeah, so… I don’t know what Danaher has listed on their liabilities, for instance on their reporting under federal law.  But if it’s listed, then that would be correct.  I don’t have familiarity with it.

BL:  Hmm… if the head DEQ official doesn’t know… OK, to the horse’s mouth: What is Pall and Danaher’s perspective on their responsibilities? 

Clips of phone ringing and leaving messages.

BL:  Beginning in February of last year, we’ve tried contacting folks in numerous departments at both Pall and Danaher.  All messages go unreturned.  And we aren’t the only ones reaching out with no response.  Recently, Washtenaw County Water Resources Commissioner Evan Pratt tried a different approach.

Evan Pratt:  In a letter that just says “We're writing you because we had a tough time with the last group of folks and never saw them much and it looks like you all are a little more conscious of this.”

BL:  That’s the sentiment behind a September 13th letter to Danaher, which was signed by leaders from the City of Ann Arbor, Washtenaw County and Scio and Ann Arbor Townships. The letter requests an answer by the end of September.  It asks if “Danaher walks the talk of corporate responsibility.”  Indeed, here are highlights from Danaher’s Social Responsibility ReportSensitivity to community environmental concerns,” “Purifying the global water supply,” and there’s even a spotlight on their Ultra-Violet light method for removing dioxane from drinking water.

Pratt:  Sounds like something they're certainly knowledgeable about.

BL:  Will they step up to the plate and use their extensive skills and resources to purify Ann Arbor’s groundwater?  The community awaits a response.

Barbara Lucas, 89 One, WEMU.

Clips of phone ringing, automated responses, leaving messages. 


PART 23  October 14, 2016 

David Fair: Good morning, I’m David Fair, and welcome back to WEMU’s ongoing series on Ann Arbor’s dioxane plume.  Just to be clear, there is no dioxane in the City of Ann Arbor’s drinking water.  But what if some day, decades from now, the plume does hit Barton Pond and Ann Arbor finds itself in the situation much like Tucson, Arizona?  Back in 2003, city officials there did find a possible carcinogen in the municipal drinking water system. In this segment of WEMU’s “The Green Room,” Barbara Lucas takes a look at how Tucson addressed its dioxane problem.

Sounds of dioxane treatment pumps. 

Barbara Lucas (BL):  When Gelman Sciences treats Ann Arbor’s groundwater, the after-treatment water is allowed to contain dioxane in the double-digits parts per billion.  And that water is discharged to Honey Creek.  But Tucson Arizona’s plant removes dioxane completely.  And they serve the after-treatment water directly to customers.

Jeff Biggs:  Those pumps that you can hear, boost the pressure of the water to be able to force it through the UV light.

BL: Surrounded by huge blue pipes and noisy pumps, Jeff Biggs is administrator for the Tucson Water Department.  He’s proud of their new plant. Pointing to a map of Tucson…

Biggs:  So here is the plume, we are cleaning it up.  The water flows through these pipes up to here.  We treat it and then the water is actually delivered to basically the downtown area.  About 60,000 people drink this water, about 8 million gallons of water a day.

BL:  Biggs says when they found they had dioxane in their drinking water, in 2002, they were concerned.  But in January of 2011, the situation took on urgency.

Biggs: The EPA came out with a new health advisory.  The old advisory was 3 ppb, the new one was .35 ppb.  An order of magnitude lower. 

BL:  They built the plant in just 14 months.  They even built the walls before the equipment was completed, leaving the roof off.  When the equipment was ready, it was lowered in with a crane.

Biggs:  So everyone was really nervous as we watched them swaying as they lowered them down and set them in.  But we had to keep moving to meet our schedule. 

BL:  The plant cost $18 million to build.  They used city funds, confident they’d be paid back.  That’s because their main Responsible Party is the United States Air Force. 

Biggs:  They’ve agreed to a number and now it’s just working it through the process.

BL:  Their airplane manufacturing, decades ago, left a legacy of TCE and dioxane-contaminated groundwater.

Biggs:  So that’s the history of TCE removal and dioxane removal in Tucson.  We can go inside and I can describe each step of the process.

BL:  He says there’s not much to it—the water is mixed with hydrogen peroxide, then pumped past a series of UltraViolet light bulbs—864 of them. 

Biggs: At that stage, between those two processes, the 1,4-dioxane is destroyed. 

BL: The groundwater comes in at up to 5 ppb.

Biggs:  And when it leaves, it’s non-detect, and our laboratory analysis goes down to .1 ppb. 

BL:  The end products of oxidizing the dioxane?  Just water and carbon dioxide.  But it takes a lot of kilowatts.  The energy costs almost a million a year.  The Air Force will be covering that too.  They considered going solar, but it would take such a huge array.

Biggs:  Our main concern at the time was to get this up and running. 

BL:  It may be energy intensive, but it’s not manpower intensive.  Weekdays someone’s here, but today, no staff’s in sight.  Aside from changing a light bulb now and then.... 

Biggs:  It’s monitored remotely, 24 hours a day. 

BL:  Overall, he says Tucson is very happy with the plant.

Biggs:  It’s very simple, not a lot of moving parts, and it works really well.  No complaints at all. 

Recently we learned Michigan’s long-awaited lowering of the legal dioxane limit needs to wait some more, while the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality takes public comment on revisions to the criteria rules.   Meanwhile, in Tucson, things have moved independent of state limits.  In fact, Arizona has no legal limit on dioxane at all.

Barbara Lucas, 89 One, WEMU.


PART 24  October 21, 2016

David Fair:  This is 89-1 WEMU and I’m David Fair. Containment of Ann Arbor’s dioxane plume is the current goal. But right now, there are potential routes of low-level exposure.  Well water serving seven homes west of town have tested positive for dioxane. Earlier this week, more was discovered in the shallow groundwater beneath some homes in the city. In both instances, the concentrations are far below Michigan’s advisory levels.  In this 24th installment in our “Green Room” series, Barbara Lucas explores the question of what is a safe advisory level.

Andrew Maynard, from “Risk Bites” video:  How dangerous is the chemical 1,4-Dioxane….

Barbara Lucas (BL):  0.35 parts per billion dioxane in drinking water is the level determined by the EPA to be a one in a million cancer risk, while 3.5 is a one in a hundred thousand risk. 

Andrew Maynard, from “Risk Bites” video:  Just being able to put a number on something bad happening brings up more challenging questions, including what you do with that number once you have it.  Who decides how much risk is OK…

BL: I’m watching a video from the “Risk Bites” series created by Dr. Andrew Maynard, the former director of the University of Michigan Risk Science Center.  A growing number of states and cities are choosing to use the EPA’s 0.35 level as their guideline.  Meanwhile, Michigan’s proposed 7.2 safe level is over twenty times higher.  Why the discrepancy?  Could money and resources factor in?

Fade out video.

BL:  While Michigan struggles to adjust its safe level of dioxane in drinking water from 85 to 7.2 ppb, people in Colorado are arguing over numbers under 1 ppb. 

Bonnie Rader…and the others are trying to treat down to .35.  But the city of Denver and Waste Management have said that because they don’t believe the labs can get down to that number, they are insisting that the level for the Lowery landfill be .9.

BL: That’s Bonnie Rader. She’s a clean water activist in Colorado. Rader says numerous landfills in her state are leaching dioxane and facing groundwater cleanups. 

Rader I think regulators are just overwhelmed with how they’re going to do it. 

BL: Eastham, Massachusetts on Cape Cod also has a landfill leaching dioxane.  The Massachusetts safe level is even lower than Colorado’s:  .3.  They’re delivering bottled water to 40 households until a municipal water system can be built.  Here’s Eastham Health Agent Jane Crowley.

Jane Crowley: Our interest in protecting public health and the environment is to be as conservative and proactive as possible.

BL:  She says their local elementary school is on bottled water even though the tap water tests at a level below .3 ppb

Crowley:  The elementary school, Eastham Elementary School, is down-gradient from the landfill.  We did go in—it was never in exceedance over that 0.3 level, but there was a detection.  It was above the reportable limit, but below the .3.  Proactively, we thought it was best to completely eliminate any possible consumption of any quantity.  So we immediately contracted to bring in bottled water. 

Sound of water pumps at Tucson’s water treatment facility.

BL:  Tucson Arizona is removing dioxane from their drinking water to below .1 ppb.  Jeff Biggs is Tucson Water administrator.  He says Tucson is guessing the EPA will someday regulate dioxane to .35, and they want to be proactive. 

Biggs:  Eventually, health advisories turn into “Maximum Contaminant Levels” which are actually enforceable.  Advisories aren’t enforceable.   But Tucson water takes them seriously because we are here to protect the public.

BL:  Meanwhile, in Michigan, the EPA found eight municipal water systems serving water above .35.   Could what is deemed to be economically feasible affect what advisory level is followed? Note that in Tucson, the United States Air Force is responsible for the pollution. It is paying for Tucson’s treatment plant and the annual costs for operations.  In Ann Arbor, who’s paying for what is a constant challenge. 

Phone ringing.

Maynard Hello. Andrew Maynard.

BL:  Andrew Maynard is a Risk Science expert. Formerly he was director of the University of Michigan Risk Science Center.  He’s currently Director of the Arizona State University Risk Innovation Lab.  

Maynard: Just looking at the politics around dioxane in Ann Arbor one factor is the shear cost of cleanup. So you've got economics coming into this, decisions being made trying to balance the cost of cleaning up with the potential impact on health. And in between the two you have science that's not 100% clear so both sides can argue things according to what they want to achieve.

BL: Compared to the statistically much greater risks we face on a daily basis, like the potential of a traffic fatality, the fears of dioxane might seem overblown.

Maynard:  As soon as people see the amount of money that it would take to get the risk down to a certain level they start looking at it and asking whether we actually want to do this. And that's when this question comes in maybe somebody is over-blowing the risks.

BL:  But, tell that to a family whose water contains a chemical that has even a remote chance of giving them cancer. In Washtenaw County, seven drinking water wells in current use have tested from 1 to 3 ppb.  How many more might have below 1 ppb, we don’t know, because the tests used don’t tell us. 

Sounds of lab machinery at Ann Arbor Technical Services.

BL:   What does a dioxane testing procedure look like?

Lab tech pointing out the stages of the process as the machinery whirs and whines.

BL:   I’m at Ann Arbor Technical Services, on Wagner Road.  Phil Simon is the owner.

Phil Simon:  This year a lot of residential property sales have had a contingency requiring 1,4-dioxane and lead analysis. 

BL: Michigan real estate law doesn’t specify dioxane tests, but it does require disclosure of any known environmental hazards.

Simon:  We get a lot of panicked homeowners saying, “I’m closing in two days, can you please…”

BL:  My house is on municipal water, which the City of Ann Arbor regularly tests for dioxane.  At sensitivities all the way down to .07 pbb, it’s always been “non-detect.”  Simon’s lab is analyzing a sample of water I’ve brought from my house, as a demo.  Sounds of the process.  When the 45 minute process is done, the verdict:

Simon: It’s less than .3 ppb, which is our method of detection limit.

BL:  Would you say with total confidence there is absolutely no—absolutely zero— dioxane in that water?

Simon:  We would say with total confidence that there is absolutely no dioxane to 0.3 micrograms per liter.  Below that, we can’t tell you.

BL:  He says they don’t report levels below 1 ppb because Michigan’s legal limit doesn’t go anywhere near that.

Simon:  We always implement methods that are sensitive enough to provide statistically highly confident data, to address the existing rules.  So if the State of Michigan wanted to push the reporting levels down below 1 ppb, and came to us and said, 'We want to go to .5 or .1,' then we would work on pushing the method down. 

BL:  But Massachusetts tests lower.  They put the Eastham Elementary School on bottled water, even though their level was below .3 ppb.  Is Eastham overreacting?  Could knowing water has minute amounts of dioxane be a case of “too much information”?  The answer seems to depend on whom you ask. In Ann Arbor, and the State of Michigan, it continues to be an unanswered question.

Risk Bites video music fades out.

Barbara Lucas, 89 One, WEMU.


PART 25  October 28, 2016 

David Fair:  This is 89.1 WEMU and I’m David Fair. Dioxane continues to show up in new places around Ann Arbor. On October 17th, a report was released showing not only dioxane, but other contaminants in shallow groundwater on the west side of Ann Arbor.  In fact, chloroform was discovered at concentrations well above Michigan’s advisory level.  This is the 25th installment of WEMU’s series on the 1,4 dioxane plume in the Ann Arbor area.  As Barbara Lucas reports, the more contamination issues arise, the more questions there are to answer. The search for solutions continues as we return you to “The Green Room.”

Mayor Christopher Taylor: The pollution was decades in the making, and it is regrettably, decades in the solving. 

Barbara Lucas (BL):  That’s Ann Arbor Mayor Christopher Taylor.

Taylor: That is a problem due to the legal structure of cleanup in Michigan, and those are the constraints under which we operate. 

BL:  The legal structure of cleanup in Michigan allows for “containment”: pollution can stay in place rather than be cleaned up.  There have been 4,000 of these prohibition zones created since 1995.  But Ann Arbor’s plume didn’t get the memo—it is not staying in place. 

City council meeting going on in background.

BL:  We’re at an Ann Arbor City Council special session.  It was called due to the latest discovery of dioxane and other contaminants in shallow groundwater. 

Chip Smith:  We can no longer sit by as passive actors in this drama.  We’ve been sitting by, excluded from the table by a judge’s decision ten years ago, and nothing positive has happened. 

BL:  That’s Council Member Chip Smith. The council is voting on a resolution to reaffirm the city’s commitment to actively tackle the dioxane problem.  

Taylor:  All in favor? Opposed?  It is approved, and please let the record show it is unanimous.

BL:  While concern is unanimous, what exactly to do is another matter. 

Rushing water of Argo Dam in background.

Larry Lemke:  This is a huge, massive plume.  It’s been developing for thirty, forty, fifty years. 

BL:  Dr. Larry Lemke is Chair of Hydrogeology at Central Michigan University.

Lemke:  So I would caution that we need to be very careful about the simple solution, which is ‘pump more treat more.’ 

BL:  Dr. Lemke studied Ann Arbor’s plume for 19 years while a professor at Wayne State University. 

LemkeThe genie is out of the bottle. There's no way to get the genie back in again. We can pump huge amounts of water and treat them but we're never going to get it all. That’s not to say we should not do what we can to get the most of it out, because that will mitigate the impact on future generations, but complete cleanup is not a realistic goal.

BL: Here’s University of Michigan ecotoxicologist Dr. Allen Burton. 

Allen Burton: The reality is these groundwater contamination problems that exist all over the country are ‘pump and treat’ kinds of scenarios, where they pump out groundwater and treat it.  They are not typically successful.  The groundwater doesn’t get completely clean, because it’s such a complicated problem.  And, yes, the companies have been punished, they are trying to make it better, but at the end of the day they don’t always make it better.

BL:  Dr. Burton says we may be forced to narrow our goal from restoring whole aquifers to targeting just the water on the way to the tap. 

Burton: To clean up groundwater, just to clean up groundwater, is not a very efficient process.  We should be cleaning up the water that’s going to be used as drinking water.

BL:  Dr. Burton says the technology does exist and is expanding in use.

Burton: These unique kind of treatment systems are going to become more common particularly as drought and water shortages become more common.  And they are hugely expensive.  But they do clean up the water, and we can drink it without a problem. 

Sound of water pumps.

BL: Tucson, Arizona has such a plant.  It removes the dioxane between the aquifer and the tap. Water Treatment Administrator Jeff Biggs says they’re fielding calls and giving tours to people from around the country. 

Jeff Biggs:  People are very interested because it is innovative and we are out in front of it.  They know there are going to be issues with it and they want to come out and see how this works. 

BL: Biggs says the technology is used in Europe, and not just for dioxane removal.   

Biggs: It is also used for reuse water, where they take treated waste water effluent and treat it to drinking water standards for reuse—potable reuse. 

Water pumps fade.

BL: Michigan’s government allows aquifers to stay polluted via the “containment” policy.  And perhaps that’s a viable approach, now that the technology exists to remove toxins on the way to the tap, if and when we really need that polluted water.  But remember, in addition to enormous expense, these “aquifer-to-tap” treatment plants require enormous energy.  And do we really want a world where our water is potentially poisoned, and we’re only sure about the water we drink?  Consider aquatic ecosystems, swimming, fishing...  And now, the newly emerging possibility of vapor intrusion of toxins into basements. Council Member Chip Smith.

Smith:  Council Member Warpehoski and I have gotten a number of phone calls, emails and texts from property owners who live by or recreate near some of these places where this contamination was found.

BL: Although the shallow groundwater tests found dioxane in only very low levels, fears are higher concentrations could migrate in.  And vapor intrusion is an exposure route an aquifer-to-tap treatment plant would not touch.  Some say the containment approach is a copout; that we can’t afford to simply tolerate pollution. 

Sounds of brewery.

Matt Greff:  Can I get you anything?  Coffee, water, a beer?

BL: Matt Greff is co-owner of Arbor Brewing Company.   We’re standing amidst giant tanks of beer in his Ypsilanti brewery, discussing Ann Arbor’s dioxane plume.

Greff:  This is just another individual issue in a much broader pool of issues that we are dealing with in in Michigan, like keeping our water clean across the board.  And keeping our water safe.  Not selling off our fresh water.  I feel like as Michiganders we take fresh water for granted.  I think we really need to stand up and protect our water sources. 

BL:  When Michigan’s legislature gutted environmental laws and funding to protect the economy, citizens were left with the containment approach.  But Greff sees clean water as crucial to the economy.

Greff:  Bell’s, Dark Horse, ourselves, Arcadia, Founder’s—we all realize what we have at stake in this.  Not just our businesses, but our state. 

BL:  He says Michigan brewery owners cover the spectrum, politically. 

Greff:  And it’s been really amazing to see such a diverse group of people rally around this issue—the water issue.  Because I think it just proves this is not a partisan issue.  This is an issue that as citizens, as business owners, we can all rally around and say ‘This is something we need to protect.’

BL:  The community is losing patience.  Just this past week:  A City Council special session and resolution, a Town Hall meeting, and a letter from U.S. Representative Debbie Dingell to the EPA with a firm request for answers.  As frustrations rise locally, it may be worth a step back:  The scientists we’ve spoken to say, in essence, we’ve fouled our nest.  And we aren’t alone.  As clean water supplies diminish globally, the goal of restoring large bodies of water to pristine states is being replaced, by a focus on simply ensuring enough clean water to drink.   

Barbara Lucas, 89 One, WEMU.