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Superfund Site Designation Discussed At 1,4 Dioxane Plume Community Meeting In Ann Arbor

After more than 30 years of dealing with a 1,4 dioxane plume emanating from the old Gelman Sciences facility on Wagner Road in Scio Township, a superfund site designation option is being highly considered.  Representatives from the Environmental Protection Agency attended a community meeting Thursday night in Ann Arbor to answer questions about a possible designation.  89.1 WEMU's Jorge Avellan was there and has the story.

Elected officials from local municipalities such as the City of Ann Arbor and Scio Township spent over two hours discussing the possibility of a superfund site.  They, along with about 125 residents listened closely as acting superfund deputy director from EPA Region 5, Joan Tanaka, discussed a possible timeline to be considered for designation.  She says the EPA has already conducted a preliminary assessment on the plume that revealed conservative assumptions that the contamination is bad.

Joan Tanaka: From the preliminary assessment, which is done, to actually just getting on the National Priorities List to allow us to evaluate, it would be another number of years. Preliminary assessment has been done, but it would probably be another three more years before we propose the site. And the timing of proposal is dictated by EPA headquarters. Sometimes they do it a couple of times a year, sometimes they do it once a year. We really can't predict. Then you put it out for public comment and then if the comments are substantial, it could take another year before it's final on the NPL.

Tanaka said if--and that's a big if--the 1, 4 dioxane plume is considered for a superfund site, another lengthy process then takes place, and it starts with a study.  It would involve the polluter Gelman Sciences.

Joan Tanaka: Our goal is to get Gelman, I assume Gelman is the responsible party, to do that study. So that study defines the contamination and then it evaluates options for cleaning it up. So they would be writing that study with EPA oversight. EPA makes the decision on what the clean-up plan is, we make it close in coordination with our state partners and we also take into consideration public input on our decision.

Ann Arbor resident Mozhgan Savabieasfahani attended the community meeting at the Washtenaw Learning Resource Center.  She's concerned that too many people are being exposed to contaminated water.

Mozhgan Savabieasfahani: This road to superfund is a dead end. At best, they can get around, even if you are on the list, it would take 30 years for them to clean it up. She cannot be any more clearer than that. She's telling us, every step, no, lots of time. So we have got to Ann Arbor, to put the shovel in the ground, and start cleaning it up right away.

Ann Arbor Mayor Christopher Taylor said he found the meeting be productive.

Mayor Christopher Taylor: The site is tremendously complex, it's deep, it's shallow, it is sandy soil and clay soil. It ranges over miles in different slopes, in different concentrations. I don't think anybody is under any illusion that it will be cleaned-up quickly.

Washtenaw County Board Commissioner Jason Morgan also took part in the meeting.

Commissioner Jason Morgan: I am frustrated a bit that the EPA is not giving up more concrete answers. But it's my belief that they have thorough information about the site and that they have thorough information about what remedial options are available, and that we could move quicker. I wish they could give us more clarity on those timelines rather than a range of three to 30 years. But this is still a helpful conversation to get us towards an answer that we need to get towards.

The City of Ann Arbor, Scio Township, Washtenaw County, and the Huron River Watershed Council have filed a lawsuit against Gelman Sciences to get them to clean-up the site.  That is another option that’s being considered to address the 1, 4 dioxane plume.

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— Jorge Avellan is a reporter for 89.1 WEMU News. Contact him at 734.487.3363 or email him javellan@emich.edu

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