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Issues of the Environment: The Gelman 1,4 dioxane plume continues to spread and moves closer to the Huron River

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Washtenaw County Democrats
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washtenawdems.org
Kathleen Knol

Overview

  • Residual dioxane from Gelman Sciences operations decades ago continues to migrate in waterways reaching out from the former business site. Historically, the plant manufactured filter devices and used dioxane as a solvent. Thousands of pounds of 1,4-dioxane were discharged to soil, surface water, and groundwater through seepage lagoons, land spray irrigation, and direct discharges at the site.
  • To keep tabs on the movement of 1,4-dioxane in the decades since the plant was closed, the Michigan Department of Great Lakes, Environment and Energy (EGLE) contracts with the Washtenaw County Health Department (WCHD) to conduct long-term monitoring of drinking water wells within 1,000 feet of the estimated plume boundary. Approximately 218 drinking water wells are sampled either twice per year, once per year, or every other year, depending on proximity to the plume and nearby detections.
  • According to the EPA, 1,4-dioxane is hazardous to human health and repeated exposures increase the risks of kidney and liver damage, miscarriage or fetal death, and possibly cancer. The chemical enters the body via contaminated air, food, or water. The 1,4-dioxane groundwater plume, which currently is about four miles long and one mile wide, has polluted local lakes, creeks, residential drinking water wells, and a City of Ann Arbor municipal water supply well.
  • Until June 2022, 1 ug/L (or part per billion, ppb) was used as the limit for detection in wells, but samples are now analyzed by the EGLE lab using a detection limit of 0.50 ppb. In addition, because of concerns about potential movement of the 1,4-dioxane plume to residential areas located north of M-14, Scio Township has completed three rounds of sampling that expand on the state-funded program and use Method 522, a US Environmental Protection Agency analytical method that detects 1,4-dioxane down to 0.12 ppb.
  • Since 2021, the new thresholds for detection and the expansion of the boundaries have revealed that 1,4 dioxane is present in wells a significant distance north of the estimated northern boundary of the plume as it was understood at that time testing began. The new findings in November of 2021 found levels of dioxane detected in the four residences ranged from 0.26 to 1.0 ppb. The third round of sampling was conducted the week of May 16, 2022 and included 27 additional residences and a re-sampling of a residence from the second round. Eight additional residences were identified with low levels of 1,4-dioxane and re-sampling confirmed the presence of 1,4-dioxane in the residence from the second round. 
  • Kathy Knol, Scio Twp. Trustee, is working closely with Trustee Jacqueline Courteau and Will Hathaway, Scio Twp Supervisor, to push for more data on the extent of the contamination and faster progress on the Gelman cleanup. The Township plans an additional round of testing using Method 522. Residents can apply to have their wells included in the sampling at: sciotownship.org/Gelman. (Source: press release from Scio Twp, June 2022)

Township Identifies 8 More Drinking Water Wells with 1,4- Dioxane

For years many residential wells in Scio Township have been sampled for 1,4–dioxane as a result of the large plume of groundwater contamination caused by the former Gelman Sciences facility located on Wagner Road.

The Michigan Department of Great Lakes, Environment and Energy (EGLE) contracts with the Washtenaw County Health Department (WCHD) to conduct long-term monitoring of drinking water wells within 1,000 feet of the estimated plume boundary. Approximately 218 drinking water wells are sampled either twice per year, once per year, or every other year, depending on proximity to the plume and nearby detections.

Historically this sampling program has had a detection limit of 1 ug/L (or part per billion, ppb). However, beginning in June of 2022, samples have been analyzed by the EGLE lab using a detection limit of 0.50 ppb. Due to concerns about potential movement of the 1,4-dioxane plume to residential areas located north of M-14, Scio Township has completed three rounds of sampling that expand on the state-funded program and use Method 522, a US Environmental Protection Agency analytical method that detects 1,4-dioxane down to 0.12 ppb.

The first round of sampling, conducted in July and September of 2021, identified low levels of 1,4-dioxane at one location that had previous detections under the state-funded program and at two locations that had not been previously sampled. The two new positive test results were below 1 ppb. One of these locations was a significant distance north of the estimated northern boundary of the plume as it was understood at that time.

The second round of sampling was conducted in November of 2021 and included 15 additional residences. This round of sampling identified four additional residences with low levels of 1,4-dioxane, all of which are located north of the estimated plume boundary. The levels of dioxane detected in the four residences ranged from 0.26 to 1.0 ppb.

The third round of sampling was conducted the week of May 16, 2022 and included 27 additional residences and a re-sampling of a residence from the second round. Eight additional residences were identified with low levels of 1,4-dioxane and re-sampling confirmed the presence of 1,4-dioxane in the residence from the second round.

The levels of 1,4-dioxane detected in the nine residences ranged from 0.15 to 0.89 ppb. All eight residences with new detections are located north of the northernmost detection from the second round of sampling and are closer to the Huron River. There is insufficient data at this point to determine whether there is any impact on the Huron River. These concentrations are below the State of Michigan drinking water standard for 1,4-dioxane of 7.2 ppb. All other residences tested non-detect for 1,4-dioxane. The residents have all been informed of the sample results.

Township Supervisor Will Hathaway has worked together with Trustees Kathleen Knoll and Jacqueline Courteau to push for more data on the extent of the contamination and faster progress on the Gelman cleanup. The Township plans an additional round of testing using Method 522. Wells to be sampled in this fourth round of testing will be drawn from among applications received from property owners in the target area.

Apply to have your well tested and find more information about the well testing project, including a map of the wells that have already been tested, at Sciotownship.org/Gelman. The Township will continue to coordinate with WCHD and EGLE regarding future sampling efforts. More information regarding 1,4-dioxane and the state-funded residential sampling program can be obtained at washtenaw.org/1789/14-Dioxane.

The Gelman Site is owned by PALL Life Sciences, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Danaher Corporation, and there are no active plant operations. Historically, the plant manufactured filter devices and used dioxane as a solvent. Thousands of pounds of 1,4-dioxane were discharged to soil, surface water, and groundwater through seepage lagoons, land spray irrigation, and direct discharges at the site. The 1,4-dioxane groundwater plume, which currently is about four miles long and one mile wide, has polluted local lakes, creeks, residential drinking water wells, and a City of Ann Arbor municipal water supply well. (Source: *directly quoted* press release from Scio Twp, June 2022)

About Kathleen Knoll

Kathleen currently serves as a member of the Scio Township Board of Trustees. She is a retired attorney who previously served as Scio Township Clerk. She has also served on several boards and commissions including Scio Land Preservation Commission, Huron River Watershed Council, Washtenaw County Planning Advisory Board, Citizens for Oil Free Backyards, and Ann Arbor Meals on Wheels. Kathleen received her undergraduate degree from the University of Michigan and her law degree from the Detroit Mercy School of Law.

Transcription

David Fair: This is 89 one WEMU, and some rather alarming news about the Gelman one-four dioxane plume has recently come out. I'm David Fair, and on this week's Issues of the Environment, we're going to learn more about the increasing threat to groundwater and wells in the greater Ann Arbor area and what that could mean for the Huron River and Ann Arbor municipal water supply. Our guest today continues to dive headlong into these murky environmental and political issues. Kathleen Knol serves on the Scio Township Board of Trustees and represents the township in CARD, which stands for the Coalition for Action on the Remediation of Dioxane. Thank you so much for making time today, Kathleen.

Kathleen Knol: Thank you. It's a pleasure.

David Fair: For those familiar with the issue, we've known for nearly four decades, dioxane contamination has been emanating from the old Gelman Sciences facility on Wagner Road. One-four dioxane is a toxic carcinogen and compose environmental and public health threats and consequences. How did you come by this new information that the contamination has expanded by about a mile from what we thought were the borders of the plume?

Kathleen Knol: Well, Scio Township has done three rounds of well testing, and our well testing has used the 522 method, which is a more sensitive method than the method previously used by Washtenaw County in EGLE.

David Fair: So, it detects lower levels.

Kathleen Knol: Yes. It detects lower levels of dioxane down to 2.1 parts per billion.

David Fair: So, with that testing methodology, you discovered that where the previous kinds of testing may have missed it, we are now aware that the plume is bigger than thought.

Kathleen Knol: That is correct. The testing that we have done, for the most part, is outside of the testing area previously tested by the county and EGLE. So, we've gone a little bit north for our initial round of testing, and that's when we just discover some surprises.

David Fair: Has the testing provided any evidence the dioxane levels are at near or above levels considered safe by the Environmental Protection Agency?

Kathleen Knol: The Michigan drinking water standard is 7.2 parts per billion. The EPA's standard is lower--3.2, I believe. Right now, all of the detections are below that. All of the new detections in Scio township are below three.

David Fair: So, taking it away from public health and into environmental health, how close to the Huron River is the contamination now?

Kathleen Knol: We don't know for sure. One of the wells that was recently tested in the most recent round of testing is less than a thousand feet from the Huron River. We don't know if wells closer to the Huron River may also reveal positive detections. We will be conducting an additional fourth round of testing and possibly a fifth round of testing. And, hopefully, we are going to be able to sample wells that are north of the last round of testing. So, they would be very close to the Huron River.

David Fair: We're talking about the decades-old and increasingly threatening one-four dioxane plume. It's expanding toward the Huron River. Our guest on this week's Issues of the environment is Kathleen Knol from the Scio Township Board of Trustees. The township, the City of Ann Arbor, Huron River Watershed Council: all among the stakeholders that have been negotiating with the current owners of the old Gelman property on a plan of action that's been going on for years. And because the court has ordered the negotiations remain confidential, there's very little transparency about what is happening, if anything. Do you have any insight?

Kathleen Knol: Um...

David Fair: Not that you can say.

Kathleen Knol: Yeah. At this time, there is still a confidentiality order that covers everything that went on in the negotiations. At this time, there isn't ongoing negotiations. There aren't ongoing negotiations. We are at a holding pattern because there is an appeal that's underway with the Court of Appeals. And, in fact, oral arguments will be conducted Thursday at 11 a.m. in Lansing. All of the interveners will be present.

David Fair: So, does that include representatives from the owner of the property now, the Danaher Corporation?

Kathleen Knol: Their legal counsel will be present.

David Fair: So, that corporation, Danaher, describes itself as a Fortune 500 science and technology innovator. It's a huge, wealthy conglomerate based out of Washington, D.C. It has minimally staffed the old Paul Gelman facility to meet the obligation of monitoring and testing. Because of the confidentiality and ongoing legal wrangling, does the company respond to citizen or stakeholder concerns?

Kathleen Knol: I can't comment on that. I don't know how they're responding to resident concerns.

David Fair: Has there been any cost analysis done to compare the impact, if the Huron River and Ann Arbor water supply become contaminated beyond safe use levels versus what full cost of remediation might cost?

Kathleen Knol: To my knowledge, no. There has hasn't been such a cost analysis. I know that the City of Ann Arbor has recently investigated options for water sources. And I understand that they have chosen to rehabilitate their current water treatment plant. So, I don't know what kinds of cost analysis went into that decision. And, as far as I know, no other cost analysis has occurred.

David Fair: WEMU's Issues of the environment conversation on the expanding one four dioxane plume continues with Kathleen Knol. She, among other things, serves as Scio Township Representative on the Coalition for Action on the Remediation of Dioxane. I find it frustrating-- and perhaps you do as well--that under the Danaher umbrella they have a company in Ontario, Canada called Trojan Technologies. In other areas of the country, Trojan has successfully treated dioxane contamination to zero detect levels. But because Danaher is technically meeting its legal obligations, it doesn't have to put that company to work to address the problem it presents in our community. Is that frustrating?

Kathleen Knol: Yes.

David Fair: Again, I understand every time I mentioned Danaher, you were under a gag order of sorts. So, I apologize for bringing that up, and I will move beyond that. There are many who believe the best option at this point is to win Superfund cleanup site designation from the Environmental Protection Agency. But that is a process that can take years, if not decades. Given the more rapid spread of the one-four dioxane plume and how close it is moving to our beloved waters, does Superfund remain a plausible solution?

Kathleen Knol: Definitely. It is probably our best solution.

David Fair: And why is that?

Kathleen Knol: They have the capacity to come in, do a comprehensive study, delineate the actual boundaries of the plume, and then order a cleanup paid for by Gelman. Right now, Gelman...well, right now, many of the costs of testing are being absorbed by taxpayers, not the polluter.

David Fair: And that brings to mind the politics of all of this, because the EPA is a federal agency. This was going nowhere under the Trump administration and certainly has greater hopes under the Biden administration. But we're moving into midterm elections that could very well change the dynamic of Congress and maintain the dynamic in the state Legislature. How concerning is it to you that this might even be considered taken off the table should that occur?

Kathleen Knol: That would be concerning. And, as I understand it, the evaluation is well underway. And the EPA recently sought out permission from Gelman to enter the site and begin testing at the source area, which is significant.

David Fair: We know that one of the Ann Arbor municipal wells that supplies drinking water from Barton Pond had previously tested positive for one-four dioxane. And I do want to make clear that Ann Arbor water is safe for consumption now. But, Kathleen, will we be able to say that in the future with any degree of certainty?

Kathleen Knol: I can't answer that question. I mean, there's so much that we don't know right now, and I can't answer that question.

David Fair: So, as you move forward, as you mentioned, there are going to be hearings in Lansing. What comes next? What is the next immediate step of action?

Kathleen Knol: For Scio Township, the next step will be a fourth round of well testing. We're meeting with representatives from the county and our technical advisor on Gelman to identify the next targeted area for testing. It will include areas north of the last round of testing.

David Fair: Kathleen, I want to thank you for taking time and sharing your insights today. I'm most grateful.

Kathleen Knol: Well, thank you very much.

David Fair: That is Kathleen Knol. She serves as a member of the Scio Township Board of Trustees and represents the township in CARD, which stands for the Coalition for Action on the Remediation of Dioxane. For more information on today's topic, visit our website at WEMU dot org. Issues of the Environment is produced in partnership with the Office of the Washtenaw County Water Resources Commissioner. And you hear it every Wednesday on your community NPR Station, 89 one WEMU FM Ypsilanti.

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Contact David: dfair@emich.edu
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