The National Priorities List is the list of hazardous waste sites in the United States eligible for long-term remedial action financed under the federal Superfund program. Currently there are 1,171 sites on the NPL, either being cleaned up or waiting for their turn. Should Ann Arbor’s 1,4-dioxane contamination be “listed” too? Weighing benefits against potential stigma costs is the subject of this week’s Green Room segment in our ongoing series.
David Fair (DF): Calls are being made for EPA assistance in remediating Ann Arbor’s dioxane-contaminated groundwater. But some worry about the stigma Superfund can bring. In the tenth of WEMU’s Green Room series, Barbara Lucas explores the question, “Will property values go down if Ann Arbor’s 1,4-Dioxane contamination is designated a Superfund site?”
Barbara Lucas (BL): I’m at Argo Cascades in Ann Arbor. Birds and frogs are singing, people are tubing, biking, roller blading. It’s buzzing with life—like Ann Arbor as a whole, which is one of the state’s hottest real estate markets.
Maris Laporter: And so that’s a concern…
BL: Maris Laporter is a local realtor. She wants action on the dioxane problem, whatever it takes.
Laporter: As realtors, we can’t pretend this isn’t happening. For years people didn’t know about it. But now with Flint everyone knows about it. And as realtors we have to be open about it. So if it requires a Superfund designation, then that’s what it is.
BL: Laporter has sold houses here for 13 years, and has had only one buyer say they would not look at houses in the plume, nor within its path.
Laporter: They came to Ann Arbor right as the problems in Flint came to light, so they became very aware of it.
BL: Mike Moran is Supervisor of Ann Arbor Township. He says says studies have found if nothing is done to improve a Superfund site, property values can decrease. On the other hand….
Mike Moran: If the local problem becomes a Superfund site the effect is actually positive on property values, if a cleanup if achieved.
BL: I ask if homeowners will welcome more wells in their midst, drilled for monitoring and extraction, if the remediation is significantly stepped up. He says about twelve years ago…
Moran: …at that time there was a proposal to extract the water and treat and pipe it along expressway to a place where it could be reinjected into the river. There was some public resistance to that plan. And again, the resistance was based on a fear of dropping property values. But that was twelve years ago and the situation hasn’t gotten better, it has gotten worse. I don’t know and cannot predict what the public’s reaction would be to a more vigorous plan. I hope it would be supported because it is needed.
BL: What’s been the experience in other states? I call Bonnie Rader, leader of a community group in Denver. They’re fighting for cleanup of dioxane at the nearby Lowry Landfill Superfund site. She says new housing is being built within a mile of the site.
Bonnie Rader: And those property values have not gone down, they’re very high over there. But I must say we need to be careful with these new neighbors with how we release our information.
BL: She says simply scaring people can be counterproductive.
Rader: We don’t want property values to go down either. But at same time we know we have to do something about this.
BL: Rader says it’s all in how it’s handled.
Rader: If it’s just being designated a Superfund site without any goals to say here is how we’re going to control this from here on, and we’d like you to be a part of the process. Which is what Superfund guarantees, that the community will be part of the planning and execution of the process.
BL: She says that instills confidence and prevents a loss of property values.
Rader: But you have to have regulators that will take the people’s ideas and go forward with them.
BL: Apparently, there’s a fine line between scaring people away from an area, or inspiring them to advocate for it.
Barbara Lucas, 89 One, WEMU News
Research on Superfund and Property Values: