1st Friday Focus On The Environment: Seeking Federal Superfund Status For The Gelman Dioxane Plume

Jul 2, 2021

Roger Rayle
Credit Barbara Lucas / 89.1 WEMU

The 1,4 dioxane plume in Scio Township, Ann Arbor, and Ann Arbor Township has plagued the area for decades. The state of Michigan has now formally requested the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to designate the contamination a Superfund clean-up site. WEMU's David Fair and Michigan League of Conservation Voters executive director Lisa Wozniak  discuss where we are and what comes next with Roger Rayle from the Coalition for Action on Remediation of Dioxane (CARD) and Scio Citizens for Safe Water. 


Michigan League of Conservation Voters executive director Lisa Wozniak
Credit Michigan League of Conservation Voters / michiganlcv.org

Lisa’s career spans over two decades of environmental and conservation advocacy in the political arena. She is a nationally- recognized expert in non-profit growth and management and a leader in Great Lakes protections. Lisa is a three-time graduate from the University of Michigan, with a Bachelors Degree and two ensuing Masters Degrees in Social Work and Education.

Lisa serves a co-host and content partner in 89.1 WEMU's '1st Friday Focus on the Environment.'

 

 

 

TRANSCRIPTION:

David Fair: This is 89 one WEMU, and I'm David Fair and welcome to First Friday Focus on the Environment. This is our monthly get-together with Michigan League of Conservation Voters executive director Lisa Wozniak. Together, we bring you expert guests to discuss environmental issues important to the well-being of our state and our county. Good to be with you, Lisa. I'm so glad you could be here for the pre-Independence Day edition.

Lisa Wozniak: Well, it's always a pleasure to be here, Dave, and Happy Early Fourth of July. One of the things we'd all like to become independent of is water contamination. And, for decades, Scio Township and the City of Ann Arbor have been dealing with an expanding plume of toxic pollution. For 37 years, one-four dioxane emanating from the old Gelman Sciences facility has been a big problem. Indeed, it's been a decades-long battle to try and get Gelman and its subsequent owners to affectively clean up the contamination. So our guest today is neck deep in the issue. Roger Rayle is chairperson of the Coalition for Action on Remediation of Dioxane, or CARD.

David Fair: And with that in mind, after years of nonstop, transparent court-mediated negotiations, the local stakeholders being the city of Ann Arbor, Scio Township, Washtenaw County and the Huron River Watershed Council are formally on board with seeking federal Superfund site designation for cleanup. And, recently, the Whitmer administration hopped on board and has requested the Environmental Protection Agency make such a designation. Roger Rayle, thank you so much for making time today.

Roger Rayle: Glad to be here.

Lisa Wozniak: Roger, I know that the stakeholders in the case against Gelman and its current owner, Danaher Corporation, are all, I think, on the same page when it comes to the end result, which is full remediation. But I'm curious. Are the stakeholders in agreement on all the facets of the case and the related issues?

Roger Rayle: All of the municipal local government stakeholders are on the same page. And, by the way, not a party to the case, another local government that's been very involved in this is Ann Arbor Township. They chose not to intervene in the court case because they pursued--they were one of the main pursuers--of the EPA option. And it's good that the court case has allowed the EPA option to continue because that's going to be the best solution.

David Fair: Before we get to those potential and longer term solutions, let's set a base for where we are today. What does the most recent monitoring data show about the plume?

Roger Rayle: Well, it's  not really anything new. The plume is expanding, and it's moving in directions that are not all documented. We had, within the last few years, we had two new hits on homeowner wells that were not previously hit. So, and of course, those were in Scio Township where the homeowners had wells. And so, the dioxane got to those wells without being halted. And we don't know what's going to happen in the future because the modeling on this is not complete. There's not really enough monitoring data to do good modeling, to reflect the reality of the situation.

Lisa Wozniak: So, Roger, do we know, is the plume moving closer to the Huron River and the City of Ann Arbor's municipal water supply?

Roger Rayle: Well, it's moving in that direction to the north, according to Gelman maps and the static water level readings in a certain area. But again, we don't have enough monitoring there to know for sure. Some of these plumes are moving in high concentrations, narrow plumes of high concentrations. And the one around Evergreen Area in the DuPont Circle is one of those, and what I've been concerned about for years is that maybe moving north or northwest even and following underneath one of the Honey Creek tributaries where the groundwater tends to flow in these glacial till areas, just like it does to the tributary that goes west. We know there's a plume there and goes east to the Allen Creek watershed. And there's two other tributaries that other researchers to the north that would go straight to Barton Pond. The one I'm talking about does kind of roundabout to it, but it would follow along Honey Creek now. Now, long before it gets to Barton Pond, it could contaminate scores of township wells. And we don't want that to happen.

David Fair: Eighty-Nine One WEMU's First Friday Focus on the Environment continues. My co-host is Lisa Wozniak from the Michigan League of Conservation Voters. And our guest is Roger Rayle. He chairs the Coalition for Action on Remediation of Dioxane.

Roger Rayle: And also add that I'm chair and co-founder of Scio Residents for Safe Water, the 501-C-3 nonprofit that's providing a lot of the funding for CARD now because we don't have a formal funding source for the coalition. So our volunteers have been keeping the data gathered together and we post maps and Google Earth mash-ups and things like that that help all the public and the stakeholders understand as much as possible what's going on.

Lisa Wozniak: That's great to know. Thank you for that clarification. And the volunteerism on this is just amazing. As Dave mentioned in the introduction, this is an issue that has been mired in the courts. And how much worse has the situation become since Gelman was first taken to court years ago?

Roger Rayle: Oh, it's just the one foot dragging after another. This latest set of court action probably began four years ago, and the judge had ordered, while you guys work it out and report back to me. That judge, of course, retired, and we got a new judge. And Gelman's and under Paul and under Danaher, her both their objective is to delay and drag things out and, you know, fight in court because, in court, they've won a number of times because they have more money to spend on lawyers, basically. That's what happens. With the EPA, the EPA, how this is what the EPA does. They work on on sites like this. This is a Superfund site site, even if it's not a capital-S Superfund. And once it becomes the official Superfund site. Then the company will not be able to drag things out like they have been in state court.

David Fair: Roger, in June, CARD held its quarterly meeting with the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy. What should we know about the discussions?

Roger Rayle: Well, this latest court actions in May were interesting, but the May 3rd court hearing, the transcript of that is out there. And if you read that carefully, as we pointed out, the stakeholders in the local government, stakeholders, and myself pointed out. There are things in their proposed fourth consent judgment settlement that are good and agreed to by both sides--both the elected officials and by the company. And those should be the things that should be in the order. And the things that are not agreed to as poison pills that make it unacceptable. That was why it was rejected by the local governments. Those should not be in there. And the judge in that transcript says, "Yes, that's exactly what I'm ordering." Yet, the next week when the order got signed, it didn't differentiate between what was agreed to and what wasn't. So those are left to be worked out in the quarterly follow-up hearings that are going to be taking place in the future. So it's still a messy situation, maybe even a little more messy than it should be.

David Fair: We're talking with Roger Rayle on Eighty-Nine One WEMU First Friday Focus on the Environment. My co-host for this monthly segment is Lisa Wozniak from the Michigan League of Conservation Voters. And Roger, while we await a decision from the EPA on the state's request for a Superfund designation, which, by the way, could take decades, I'm told.

Roger Rayle: Maybe a couple of years.

David Fair: You're thinking a couple of years before they make the decision. Then how long would it take for money to be allocated and actual remediation to start taking place?

Roger Rayle: Well, that'll happen immediately because any money that gets allocated to get this in place. If the company if the EPA cannot encourage the company to do what's necessary, the EPA will hire people to do what's necessary and bill the company. And my understanding is the EPA almost always gets reimbursed for that cost. This won't cost the taxpayer anything.

David Fair: But why is it that we have been told by those who oppose seeking Superfund designation site and want to work out a court settlement that it could take decades before decisions are made and the situation is addressed by the EPA?

Roger Rayle: Well, I think there different people have different opinions, and this is clearly a Superfund site.

David Fair: That's your opinion.

Roger Rayle: Well, no. It's everybody's opinion. The company's own opinion says this is the largest dioxane site of its type in the country.

David Fair: So is that what the company is holding out for as well? Is the EPA to come in and say that there's money?

Roger Rayle: The company will have to actually do a better cleanup if the EPA comes in. So, of course, they're not for that. And there's people that are affiliated with other entities that don't want the so-called stigma of EPA. But, in fact, studies have been done to show when the EPA comes in to a site like this. Like property values stabilize and go up because there's actually somebody working on the problem. Remember. How do you solve a problem? You first have to properly define it, right? And the only way we can find the only way we know what's going on underground with dioxane contamination is if we have the data. That's the only way.

Lisa Wozniak: So, Roger, I believe that we have a collective responsibility--all of us--for the health of our land and our air and our water, and I believe that you share that. Governments, corporations, communities, individuals, we all are responsible in one way or another. We all have a part in ensuring the future health and sustainability of our air, our water, our land, and in this case, the city, the township, the county, the Huron River Watershed Council, they're all actively involved, as is CARD. And the volunteers in your organization are very involved. What impact can listeners can we can the rest of us make in this particular situation?

Roger Rayle: Well, I always tell people to pay attention and read between the lines and ask questions. If you see something that looks odd, if you're into looking at data and maps and say, "Why is that? What is this? What's happening here?" You know, pursue the answers. So one of the things they've been doing for the last several years is trying to get a complete, centralized, up-to-date, reliable database that all stakeholders, consultants and researchers can use. And we don't have that. Just 24 hours ago, I finally got a copy of the data set that was used in a report for the report that went to the court for the May 3rd hearing. It took two months to get that. It shouldn't have taken two months. It should have been provided along with the report. And I've just started reviewing it over the last 24 hours. And there are dozens of changes to the data that are not in the official database. And that's just the EGLE official database. Gelman has their own database that is now secret. It's not it's not shared with the public. There are other data sets that are not in this latest data set yesterday. This is not easy. Again, you need the data to define the problem, and, if not, everybody's working with the same data set, they're not seeing the problem in the same way. So, I'm into my twenty-eighth year as a volunteer watching over this site, and one of the first things they did back in '93, '94, was ask for electronic copies of the data, because, back then, getting paper copies of the data--you can't do any kind of analysis, paper copies. So we're slowly getting better, but it's going to I think having the EPA club hanging over this, I think, is making the state understand that. OK, data is pretty important. We're going to have to respect our data handling a little better. Well, it's still like pulling teeth, right?

David Fair: This is one of those situations that you and I and many others have been discussing for literally over three decades, and we will continue to do so as we continue to move forward. Thank you so much for the time and the information today.

Roger Rayle: One last statement. Remember. We're all about two thirds water. Act accordingly.

David Fair: The final words of Roger Rayle for today. He is the chair of the Coalition for Action on Remediation of Dioxane, a founding member of Scio Residents for Safe Water. Lisa Wozniak is executive director of the Michigan League of Conservation Voters and my co-host for WEMU's First Friday Focus on the Environment. And Lisa, we'll do it again in August.

Roger Rayle: Thanks, David.

Lisa Wozniak: Thank you, Roger.

David Fair: For more information on today's topic, visit our Web page at WEMU Dot Org. I'm David Fair and this is Eighty-Nine One WEMU FM and WEMU HD One Ypsilanti.

RESOURCES:

Michigan League of Conservation Voters

Coalition for Action on Remediation of Dioxane (CARD)

Superfund

Scio Residents for Safe Water (SRSW)

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— David Fair is the WEMU News Director and host of Morning Edition on WEMU.  You can contact David at 734.487.3363, on twitter @DavidFairWEMU, or email him at dfair@emich.edu