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The Green Room: The Ann Arbor Area's 1,4 Dioxane Plume-Part 18

When considering the expanding 1,4 dioxane plume in groundwater in the Ann Arbor area, money plays a significant role. Further determinations need to be made on how best to clean up the pollution. In this 18th installment on the dioxane plume, Barbara Lucas explores what the clean-up goals should be, how much money is needed and who should pay. 


David Fair (DF):  There is a court ordered consent judgment between the State of Michigan and Gelman Sciences when it comes to managing a 1,4 dioxane plume spreading through some of the area’s groundwater. Officially, the “Responsible Party,” as it’s called, is Gelman, which owned the Wagner road facility in Scio Township where the contamination plume originated.  Gelman was bought out by Pall Corporation which has since been purchased by Washington D.C.-based Danaher. The legal judgment calls for the “Responsible Party," not to fully clean-up the chemical pollution, but to work to prevent it from spreading further. This is the 18th installment of our series on the Ann Arbor area’s 1, 4 dioxame plume. This week in “The Green Room,” 89-1 WEMU’s Barbara Lucas looks at the call for raising the bar on that standard.

Ann Arbor Mayor Christopher Taylor:  Good evening everyone! 

BL:  On July 25th staff of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality met with the Ann Arbor City Council.  Bob Wagner announced a new task force will be forming, with representation from the state, local government, citizens, AND hopefully, representatives from the Responsible Party as well. 

Bob Wagner:  It would be most beneficial and useful if we could collectively agree on the best uses of this money.

BL:  He’s referring to the $700,000 recently allocated by the Michigan legislature to spend on Ann Arbor’s dioxane plume.  At first glance it sounds like a lot, but...

Wagner:  You could spend the whole amount on monitoring wells.  All of it. 

BL:  Some council members don’t want to settle for just containing the pollution, instead of restoring the aquifer.  Nor do they like the idea of taxpayer money being spent, on any of it.  Councilwoman Sabra Briere.

Sabra Briere:  It’s not, I think, that we want the state to pay for the cleanup, and it’s certainly not that we want the city to pay for the cleanup.  It’s that we want the responsible part to actually do more than try to contain this flow.   

BL:  She says it’s obvious—from the spread of the plume—that containment isn’t working.  Councilwoman Jane Lumm also asks if the Responsible Party can take on a bigger financial role.

Jane Lumm:  Since Pall-Gelman has been acquired by—is a subsidiary of Danaher—and that’s a fortune 200 company.

BL:  Indeed, Danaher has a market value of $65 billion.  Here’s Councilman Jack Eaton.

Jack Eaton:  Before we start spending the state’s $700,000 on monitoring wells, shouldn’t we encourage the company to incur that cost? 

Dan Hamel:  I believe that’s what we will be doing.

BL:  That’s DEQ staffer Dan Hamel, who says he’s in day-to-day contact with the Pall Gelman.  He says he’s looking forward to having the company meet with local government and residents directly.

Hamel:  They will be there to hear first-hand, and have a dialogue.

BL:  Bob Wagner says, as seen from the DEQ’s work elsewhere, public money can be leveraged.

Wagner:  Basically is to say, “Well, what we’ve heard from you is you are not going to do what we’ve asked.  So we are going to do it.” In most cases, that causes that party to do the work.  That’s the leverage that we talked about.  In some cases, they don’t do the work.  When that happens, we go out and do the work and then we go back to the court and we seek recovery of those dollars.

BL:  DEQ staffer Mitch Adelman adds that there’s a significant pot of money available, called the Financial Assurance Mechanism.

Mitch Adelman:  The Gelman entity exists for the purposes of carrying out this remedy.  The state has a letter of credit to the tune of over $28 million that we can access today, if the Gelman entity does not do what is required by the remediation. 

BL:  Adleman says when the State’s dioxane standard becomes more protective as expected by the end of the year, then the amount in the Financial Assurance Mechanism will need to be renegotiated. 

Adleman:  I think it stands to reason that a cleanup would be more costly based on that lower criterion.

BL:   Regardless who pays, one thing’s for sure:  raising the bar is going to be expensive.  

Mayor Taylor:  Public comment is closed, and we are adjourned.

BL: Barbara Lucas, 89 One, WEMU News.


Financial Assurance Mechanism in the Third Amendment to Consent Judgment 2011

Barbara received a master's degree in Environmental Policy from the University of Michigan. She began her association with WEMU in 2003 as an intern with Washtenaw County, assisting with the weekly "Issues of the Environment" show. In 2003 she also began working in documentary film, and later established her own video production company.