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Appeals court vacates cleanup order in Gelman dioxane case

Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy

The Michigan Court of Appeals has vacated a lower-court ruling requiring Gelman Sciences to more aggressively clean up and monitor pollution around its former plant near Ann Arbor.

The ruling means Gelman will no longer be bound by a 2021 consent judgment governing its treatment of groundwater and soil contaminated with a chemical called dioxane. Gelman will instead be subject to a previous, more lenient consent judgment.

The U.S. EPA says dioxane is likely carcinogenic. Gelman used the chemical in its industrial processes.

A plume of dioxane has spread for miles beyond the Gelman plant in Scio Township.

The appeals court found that the lower-court ruling was based on a faulty suggestion that Gelman is liable for the pollution, and that the trial court improperly allowed third parties like the City of Ann Arbor, Washtenaw County Health Department, and Huron River Watershed Council to be involved in the case.

The ruling sends the case back to the trial court.

Environmental advocates said the outcome was disappointing.

“Polluters who do not take responsibility for their toxic waste must be held accountable and our communities must have faith that the judicial system will provide that justice,” Democratic U.S. Representative Debbie Dingell (MI-12) said in a statement.

“This ruling overturning the 2021 judicial order that would force Gelman to enact urgent, substantive cleanup measures will put human health and our water at risk,” she said.

Dingell said the appeals court ruling shows the area should be designated a federal Superfund site to ensure cleanup.

Michigan’s Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy has requested that designation. The Detroit News reports EPA monitoring teams will visit the site later this month.

Brett joined Michigan Public in December 2021 as an editor.
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