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Issues Of The Environment: What Happens Next With The Gelman 1,4 Dioxane Plume

Jason Morgan
Washtenaw County

The 1,4 dioxane plume emanating from the old Gelman Sciences facility on Wagner Road in Scio Township continues to expand through groundwater in the greater Ann Arbor area.  At a recent public forum, the federal Environmental Protection Agency said it would take decades to get the contamination designated as a Superfund site and clean-up could take decades beyond that.  In this week's "Issues of the Environment," WEMU's David Fair talks to Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners chair Jason Morgan about what is happening now to better address the environmental threat. 


  • A large underground plume of water laced with hazardous dioxane continues to inch toward the Huron River and Ann Arbor’s main source of drinking water.  Dioxane is classified by the EPAas likely to be carcinogenic to humans by all routes of exposure.  It also can cause kidney and liver damage, and respiratory problems.  Just a few parts per billion in drinking water, with long-term exposure, poses a 1 in 100,000 cancer risk.

  • On January 16, 2020, during a forum hosted by U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell at Washtenaw County’s Learning Resource Center, Joan Tanaka, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Region 5 acting Superfund deputy director, explained the various steps in the Superfund process.

  • The takeaway from the meeting is that the process is very slow. Designation as a Superfund sight could take decades, and that total cleanup might be decades out from that.  Joan Tanaka explained that Superfund cleanup tends to work best when all other state and local options are exhausted, call it a “last resort”. 

  • Meanwhile, the state of Michigan is continuing in negotiations with the polluter to work on an agreeable consent judgment regarding cleanup.  Local parties in the case include the city, county, Scio Township, and Huron River Watershed CouncilBrian Negele, the assistant state attorney general on the case, says a new consent judgement is not far off.

  • The more local and state organized consent judgement and/or an EPA Superfund cleanup would try to make the polluter (Gelman/current owner of the corp.) pay for the cleanup.

  • Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners Chairman Jason Morgan says local parties are much closer to deciding a new path forward, and that the public would be informed about what that path might look like before the interested parties vote on it.

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— David Fair is the WEMU News Director and host of Morning Edition on WEMU.  You can contact David at734.487.3363, on twitter @DavidFairWEMU, or email him at dfair@emich.edu

Contact David: dfair@emich.edu
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