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Expert: EPA could be what Ann Arbor needs to protect drinking water, clean up dioxane plume

Deb Nystrom
Creative Commons http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

Ann Arbor Township and the city of Ann Arbor are both pushing for a federal cleanup of the dioxane plume that has been working its way through the city’s groundwater for several years. The concern is that the 1,4 dioxane, a known carcinogen, could eventually reach Ann Arbor’s main water source in the years to come.

Since the company responsible for the cleanup, Pall Life Sciences, have done little to slow the spread, city officials think the Environmental Protection Agency needs to step in to take care of the cleanup.

David Carpenter, director of the Institute for Health and the Environment for the University at Albany in New York, joined Stateside to talk about the cleanup options for the city of Ann Arbor.

Pall purchased Gelman Sciences, the medical supply company that contaminated the area, after it disposed of the solvent 1,4 dioxane by spraying it on nearby fields and using a deep water injection well from the 1960s through the 1980s. The chemical has already contaminated some private wells on the west side of the city, and some experts believe it’s only a matter of time before it reaches the Huron River, the city’s main source of drinking water.

If there's a real danger, you don't want to hide that under the rug and you want to have the danger cleaned up.

According to Carpenter, in the mid-1980s, the federal government designated certain environmental sites around the country that needed to be cleaned up because they posed a significant threat to human health. A federal cleanup would bring with it the resources and expertise of the EPA, as well as the possibility of federal funding.

These locations are called Superfund sites, and the township and the city are hoping to earn that designation in an effort to get it cleaned up before it reaches the Huron River.

“If there really is a threat to human health, then federal dollars and federal muscle can be brought to bear to demand the cleanup,” said Carpenter. “Either paid for by the people that have been responsible for the contamination or, in the case of when that facility couldn’t be identified, then from this fund that it collected from industry specifically for that purpose.”

Map of 1,4-dioxane plume in Ann Arbor.
Credit Scio Residents for Safe Water
A graphic representation of the dioxane plume under Ann Arbor

Some local and state officials don't like the idea of a Superfund site designation. Carpenter understands that concern, but says you can’t just ignore health hazards.

“It is a bad name [of being named a Superfund site] in a sense that it says that there’s a real danger to being around here,” said Carpenter. “But if there’s a real danger, you don’t want to hide that under the rug and you want to have the danger cleaned up.”

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality has taken a step forward by proposing the state’s standard for 1,4 dioxane be lowered. The current state standard is 85 parts per billion, while the rest of the world is near three parts per billion. The new proposed Michigan standard is 7.5 parts per billion.

Listen to the full interview below to hear more about the process of becoming a Superfund site and if Carpenter thinks it is the right move for the city of Ann Arbor.

Josh Hakala, a lifelong Michigander (East Lansing & Edwardsburg), comes to Michigan Radio after nearly two decades of working in a variety of fields within broadcasting and digital media.
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