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Is Superfund status in store for Ann Arbor dioxane plume?


The city of Ann Arbor will ask its co-plaintiffs in a groundwater contamination lawsuit against Pall-Gelman if they should ask the U.S. EPA to add the site to the Superfund program.

The resolution was approved unanimously by Ann Arbor's city council.

Pall-Gelman is the company responsible for contaminating Ann Arbor's groundwater with a chemical called 1,4 dioxane. 

The contamination happened over decades, as the company dumped the chemical into unlined ponds, sprayed it onto the ground, and illegally pumped it into a swamp nearby.

Pall-Gelman has been partially cleaning up the contamination since 1992, but many residents and local environmentalists say it's not enough, as the plume of contaminated water slowly makes its way toward the Huron River; the main source of Ann Arbor's drinking water.

Mayor Chris Taylor says residents need to be assured that the city's drinking water is currently safe.

"I drink unfiltered water, I have for decades," says Taylor. "My children, they've drunk unfiltered Ann Arbor drinking water their entire life, and I'm proud of it."

A tiny amount of 1,4 dioxane was in fact detected in the city's drinking water in February: 0.061 parts per billion in the raw intake water from Barton Pond, part of the Huron River, and 0.030 parts per billion was detected in the city's treated drinking water.

But in March, the level was non-detect for 1,4 dioxane.

(Ann Arbor is also struggling to eliminate PFOS and PFAS from its drinking water. Those are different chemicals coming from industries upstream in the river, not from Pall-Gelman.)

Mayor Taylor says even if all the plaintiffs agree to ask the U.S. EPA to step in, which would require getting a letter of consent from Governor Gretchen Whitmer, residents should not expect a quick resolution.

Currently, he says, the EPA says the 1,4 dioxane contamination in the groundwater is not a threat to residents' health.

Taylor says the request for the U.S. EPA to consider more involvement can be done as a separate action from the ongoing lawsuit, which seeks to force Pall-Gelman to do a complete cleanup, or at least, a cleanup based on a stricter standard.

Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Public. She began her career at Michigan Public as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.
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