An effort to change the cleanup of contaminated groundwater has come under fire by local residents and government officials who’ve been keeping an eye on the issue for more than 20 years.
At Wednesday’s annual meeting of the Coalition for Action on Remediation of Dioxane, residents said that requested changes filed by Pall Life Sciences earlier this month with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality would allow higher amounts of the contaminant, 1,4-dioxane, in the groundwater. As a result, they said, the 1,4-dioxane, a presumed carcinogen, could flow northward and reach Ann Arbor’s primary drinking water supply at Barton Pond.
“The more you let (the contamination) go north, the more you risk letting it get to Barton Pond,” said Matt Naud, environmental coordinator for the city of Ann Arbor, which is part of CARD member.
CARD is a group of citizen and governmental groups concerned about cleanup of the contamination, a process that began in the mid-1980s. At Wednesday’s annual meeting, held at the Washtenaw Intermediate School District on South Wagner Road, CARD members criticized the proposal, saying information, such as the amount of water pumped out of the aquifer, was missing. “A lot of geology and hydrogeology has not been evaluated yet,” said Vince Caruso, head of the Allen’s Creek Watershed Group. “More study needs to be done.”
The main concern for CARD was whether the contamination’s spread to the north would reach the Huron River, polluting Barton Pond, where the city pumps more than 80 percent of its residents’ drinking water.
The company’s new proposal would expand the area where wells are prohibited because of the contamination. Residents in that area would have to hook up to water piped in by the city of Ann Arbor.
If no wells were in use, regulations on allowed levels of contamination could be eased, and CARD members said they feared cleanup of the contamination would be cut back.
The proposed changes also do not include a contingency plan to treat any 1,4-dioxane in case the contamination reaches Barton Pond, said Naud. “Without a contingency plan, this plan – I would say – is non-reviewable,” he said.
The DEQ is in the process of evaluating Pall’s proposal, said Mitch Adelman, district supervisor for the agency’s remediation and redevelopment division, who was at the CARD meeting along with about 20 other people.
He was not surprised to see that company officials wanted to expand the area where wells would be prohibited, Adelman said, but “I expected to see a contingency plan in their proposal.” If the well-exclusion area is expanded, he said, there needs to be “robust monitoring,” in addition to a contingency plan.
DEQ officials have set up a public comment period – until June 8 – and a public meeting on May 27 from 7 to 9 p.m. at Haisley Elementary School, 825 Duncan St., in Ann Arbor.
DEQ must respond to the proposal by June 15. For the changes to be finalized, they must go through Washtenaw County Circuit Court, which oversees the cleanup.
The contamination began in the 1960s, when Gelman Sciences, which manufactured medical filters, pumped industrial wastewater into holding lagoons behind its factory at 600 Wagner Road in Scio Township. By 1985, tests showed some local residential wells were contaminated with 1,4-dioxane.
In 1997, Gelman Sciences was sold to Pall Corp. Ten years later, Pall, which is headquartered in East Hills, N.Y., closed the plant on Wagner Road where the contamination originated. However, the groundwater treatment facility continues to operate there, said Sybil Kolon, environmental quality analyst for DEQ.
Though efforts to measure and treat the contamination have gone on for years, groundwater contamination continues to turn up in testing – though rates have fallen overall – even while the pollution has spread.
Currently, Pall pumps out the groundwater for treatment and either dumps it into Honey Creek or re-injects it into the ground.