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Issues Of The Environment: Consent Judgment Reached To Better Remediate Gelman 1,4 Dioxane Plume

Sep 2, 2020

Brian Steglitz, Water Treatment Services Manager for the City of Ann Arbor.
Credit City of Ann Arbor / a2gov.org

For decades, a 1,4 dioxane plume has contaminated groundwater in Scio Township and Ann Arbor.  Legal battles have been ongoing with the original polluter, Gelman Sciences, and its subsequent owners.  Now, a new consent judgement has been reached and it is expected to improve the situation.  In this week's "Issues of the Environment," WEMU's David Fair talks with the City of Ann Arbor's water treatment services manager, Brian Steglitz, about the agreement and what needs to happen next to get the settlement approved and implemented. 


Overview

  • Following years of legal back and forth, the current owners of the old Gelman Sciences property off Wagner Road in Scio Township, have agreed to amended clean-up settlement.  If approved by local officials, it is expected to lead to a more extensive and thorough cleanup of the 1,4 dioxane plume spreading in groundwater in Ann Arbor.
  • Until now, the Consent Judgment was subject to a Court Confidentiality Order dated March 23, 2017, which prohibited the parties from disclosing publicly any information about the negotiations.
  • See below for the now-public information as provided by the the City of Ann Arbor.

Gelman Settlement - Important Facts

Who is currently in charge of the cleanup?

The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE).  

What is 1,4-dioxane (“dioxane") and what are the potential health impacts that might result from exposure to it?  

Dioxane is a manmade compound that mixes easily in water.  It is used in industry as a solvent to manufacture other chemicals and it is a by-product in many items, including paint strippers, dyes, greases, antifreeze and aircraft deicing fluids.  It also is found in other chemicals that are used to manufacture cosmetics, detergents, deodorants and shampoos.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer has determined that 1,4-dioxane is "possibly carcinogenic" to humans because it is a known carcinogen in animals.  USEPA states that it is likely to be carcinogenic to humans.  More information on exposure to 1,4-dioxane and its health effects is located on the State of Michigan Department of Health and Human Services website.

Where is the dioxane in the groundwater and how did it get there?

Dioxane was used from the mid-1960s to the mid-1980s in the manufacturing processes at Gelman's facility on Wagner Road.  Gelman's wastewater, containing dioxane, was disposed onsite during that time.  In the mid-1980s dioxane was discovered offsite, in nearby surface waters and groundwater. 

The groundwater in underground aquifers that is carrying dioxane is referred to as a plume.  Multiple plumes have been spreading west in Scio Township and northeast then east into Ann Arbor, moving towards the Huron River.  More information on dioxane and its location in the groundwater is located on the Washtenaw County Public Health Department's website

When was the original Consent Judgment established and what does it now require?

In 1992, the Washtenaw County Circuit Court entered a Consent Judgment regarding Gelman's dioxane contamination.  Three amendments to the original Consent Judgment have been approved by the Court and are in effect.

The Consent Judgment and its amendments dictate the obligations of Gelman to investigate, clean up, contain and monitor the contaminated groundwater, under the direction of EGLE. 

The Court did not require full cleanup of all of the released dioxane.  As one example, the  portion of the plume within the City of Ann Arbor and its projected pathway toward the Huron River, including buffer areas, is designated as the “Prohibition Zone."  Because of existing and projected groundwater contamination within this zone, no uses of groundwater, such as residential wells for irrigation or other purposes, are permitted within this zone.

What is the Prohibition Zone (or “PZ") and how does it affect my property?

In the State vs. Gelman lawsuit, the Court approved a Prohibition Zone (“PZ") as an Institutional Control.  This allows dioxane above the groundwater cleanup criterion to migrate, rather than be cleaned up, within the PZ.  The “prohibition" part of the PZ title refers to a prohibition against installing or maintaining wells for drinking water or irrigation purposes on land within the PZ boundaries.  All of the PZ is within the boundaries of the City of Ann Arbor, which requires all properties—regardless of where they are relative to the PZ—to connect to the city's municipal water supply system rather than get water from wells on their properties.  The location of the PZ can be viewed on the map.

What is the current status of the cleanup effort?

Gelman has been pumping and treating groundwater contaminated with dioxane it released since the early 1990's. Gelman discharges the treated water into Honey Creek which is a tributary of the Huron River.  The discharge is permitted by the State of Michigan through a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit.

What is the Proposed Fourth Amendment and Restatement to the Consent Judgment and what is its current status?

Following EGLE's approval of a reduction of the groundwater cleanup criterion for dioxane from 85 parts per billion (ppb) to 7.2 ppb in October 2016, a proposed fourth amendment to and restatement of the Consent Judgment has been under negotiation between Gelman, the State of Michigan (EGLE), the City of Ann Arbor, Washtenaw County and its Health Department, Scio Township, and the Huron River Watershed Council since the spring of 2017.  The result of this negotiation is the proposed Fourth Amendment to and Restatement of the Consent Judgment.  The proposed fourth amendment and related documents, including a chart of key changes it proposes is available via the document repository webpage.

What are the major elements included in the proposed Fourth Amendment and Restated Consent Judgment that are new?

The fourth amendment and restated consent judgment includes four significant elements:

  1. Additional monitoring and mapping of the contaminated groundwater
  2. Removal of additional dioxane from areas of high concentration downgradient of the source
  3. Removal/treatment of additional dioxane at the source area on the Gelman Property
  4. Expansion of the Prohibition Zone to protect public health

These elements are expected to result in an increasing of pump and treatment of groundwater by over 40 percent and an increase in removal of dioxane by over 200 percent.  This will be completed by the installation of additional extraction wells as well as incorporation of two new treatment technologies for dioxane removal:

  1. Phytoremediation
  2. Heated soil vapor extraction

If I would like more information about the proposed Fourth Amendment and Restated Consent Judgment, where can I find it?

There is a document repository webpage with all the documents being considered by the Local Government Intervenors, including:

  • The proposed Fourth Amended and Restated Consent Judgment
  • Seven explanatory or educational videos prepared by Professor Lawrence D. Lemke  

How can I provide input?

There will be opportunities for public input.  It is anticipated that one or more work sessions could be scheduled of Ann Arbor City Council, Washtenaw County Board, and the Scio Township Board.  Once scheduled, the date(s) will be promoted via this webpage, the city's meeting calendar and shared via city communication channels. If you would like to receive more information when scheduled, please sign up for email notifications from the city. 

What are the next steps in advancing the cleanup effort?

The next steps in the cleanup effort are set out in, and are dependent on the fourth amendment to the Consent Judgment being approved and entered by the Court.

What decisions are impending, who will make them, and what is the timeline?

Following public comment hearings, the local government Intervenors (City of Ann Arbor, Washtenaw County, and Scio Township) will vote on the proposed Fourth Amended and Restated Consent Judgment, Order of Dismissal, and the Settlement Agreement with that local unit of government.  See the Document Repository webpage to review those documents.

When all three local governments and the Huron River Watershed Council have made their decisions, the parties will notify the court whether they and Gelman have approved or agreed to all these documents. The date for the vote by the Ann Arbor City Council will be posted once identified.  If dates for the votes by the County Board of Commissioner or Scio Township Board of Trustees become known to the city, they also will be posted. There will be a hearing prior to each of these entities voting allowing for public comment.

The court will incorporate public comments before it decides whether to approve and enter the Fourth Amended and Restated Consent Judgment, Order of Dismissal, and Settlement Agreements. The parties have a court date on October 22, 2020, to report on the Intervenor votes, so the local government Intervenors are expecting to vote before then. (Source: https://www.a2gov.org/departments/water-treatment/Pages/Gelman-1,4-Dioxane-Litigation.aspx)

Lifting of Confidentiality - Public Comment Begins

Washtenaw County, the Washtenaw County Health Department, the City of Ann Arbor, Scio Township and the Huron River Watershed Council were granted intervenor rights several years ago allowing them to participate in a legal process to develop a revised Consent Judgment that will govern the continued clean-up of the Gelman site. 

The Gelman site is currently contaminated with 1,4-Dioxane and there has been significant public interest in increasing the on-going clean-up efforts.  Until now, the process of revising the Consent Judgment was subject to a Court Confidentiality Order dated March 23, 2017 which prohibited the parties from disclosing publicly any information about the negotiations. 

The parties have now reached a point in the legal process where certain information may be shared for public review and comment after Washtenaw County Trial Court Judge Connors partially lifted the Confidentiality Order on Monday, August 31, 2020.  That order allows for the following documents to be made public:

Seven short videos providing summary explanations of the proposed settlement,

These documents are available via an online repository developed by the intervening parties.  The repository is available at www.a2gov.org/gelmanproposedsettlementdocs or through links on the intervening parties’ websites. (Source: https://www.a2gov.org/Pages/Gelman-Proposed-Settlement-Documents.aspx)

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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