The state sends a letter to the EPA regarding the Gelman cloud and finally begins the federal cleanup process after years of demands
The state of Michigan sent a letter of compliance to the Environmental Protection Agency on Monday officially initiating the federal remediation process for the decade-old 1,4-dioxane plume that has contaminated Ann Arbor’s aquatic system.
“At the request of the municipalities, please request the evaluation of the website for the listing process (national priority list) again,” the letter said. “The Michigan Department of the Environment, Maritime and Energy (EGLE) will work closely with USEPA to ensure that the current agent continues to protect human health and comply with Michigan law during the NPL process.”
Known as the Gelman cloud, the cloud got its nickname from the late Charles Gelman, a manufacturer of microporous filters in Ann Arbor in the 1950s. The chemical 1,4-dioxane – a likely carcinogen that causes kidney and liver cancer, as well as respiratory diseases – was used in the manufacturing process and seeped into the ground under the company’s Scio Township facility. The contamination has since spread across the Ann Arbor area towards West Park and branches off the Allen Creek drainage system, which flows into the Huron River.
In December 2020, Ann Arbor, Washtenaw County, Scio Township, and Ann Arbor Township sent letters to Governor Gretchen Whitmer asking her to help clean up the EPA Superfund. After four months, Whitmer approved the EPA cleanup assistance and initiated Monday’s letter of compliance sent out by the Department of the Environment, Great Lakes and Energy.
The compliance letter comes the day before parishioners and local officials planned to travel to Lansing to request action from Whitmer on the Capitol steps. The rally has since been canceled.
The EPA previously stated that their involvement in the cleanup of the Gelman site will only proceed if the state authorizes it. Whitmer’s support begins with the Gelman site being added to the list of national priorities, allowing the EPA to step in and begin the cleanup. To be eligible for the NPL, the EPA will continue local and state efforts to collect data and samples from the Gelman site before cleaning methods are determined. The approval process would normally take two to three years, but local efforts to collect data and samples over years could shorten that time, authorities told The Michigan Daily.
“Thank you Governor Whitmer for mailing the letter to the EPA,” Ann Arbor Alderman Kathy Griswold, D-Ward 2, wrote in a tweet Monday afternoon. Griswold was actively involved in organizing efforts to get the site clean.
“I see the EPA path is more strategic,” Griswold told The Daily. “It will be a few years before the EPA is actually cleaned up. But during that time we will continue to clean up, in agreement with the third judgment, and then we may have a decision from Judge Connors that requires more cleanup, and I hope so. “
U.S. Representative Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., Released a statement Monday commending progress in adding the Gelman cloud to the list of national priorities.
“The growing plume of dioxane has been spreading in the Ann Arbor groundwater for decades, posing a worrying threat to our families and the environment,” the Dingell statement said. “Our communities have worked together to get us to this point, and I will continue to work with all federal, state, and local officials, as well as all stakeholders involved, to ensure this contamination is properly removed and our public health is protected long-term.” . “
In 2016, the City of Ann Arbor filed a new lawsuit against Gelman and his company. An agreement was reached in September 2020 that included a thorough clean-up protocol. However, local residents were skeptical about the ability of local authorities to monitor and enforce this cleanup.
Dan Bicknell, an environmental clean-up professional who discovered the Gelman Cloud when he graduated from the University of Michigan in 1984, mentioned the idea that the local government could force a “resilient polluter” to do this cleanup in an interview with September “Not logical” the daily.
While local officials continue to litigate in court – and are expected to come up with ideas for a new cleanup proposal in early May – the state is now one step closer to EPA Superfund cleanup.
Beth Collins, a resident of Ann Arbor and secretary for the Coalition for Dioxane Clean-up Measures, told The Daily that Monday’s letter will be instrumental in bringing in the federal aid needed to strengthen cleanup efforts.
“I’m excited and all of us who have wanted this (letter) for many years hope that this (letter) marks the beginning of a new partnership between the state, federal and local government units, all of whom are stakeholders,” said Collins.
Previous attempts to introduce EPA intervention began in 2017 when the EPA conducted a preliminary analysis of the Gelman location after activism increased from local community members. The preliminary assessment indicated that the Gelman site “qualified for further investigation and assessment as part of the NPL listing process – but former Michigan governor Rick Snyder did not endorse the Superfund intervention.
“I said earlier that the definition of insanity does the same thing over and over again and expects a different outcome,” said Collins. “Every time (officials) want to go back to court – I mean nothing else has happened and the cloud keeps moving so you just want something else. I feel like a lot of people (maybe) fear the EPA because it’s different, but in my eyes that’s a good thing. The difference will be good on this side. “
Jason Morgan, chairman of the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners, told The Daily the state’s letter was “monumental” as it opened a major trial with the federal government. Morgan also said the federal government will be able to finally hold the polluter accountable by asking Gelman Sciences to pay for the reasonable cleanup measures set by the EPA.
“This is something we weighed quite a bit as we pondered our essentially two ways in which we could clean up,” said Morgan. “The advantage of the federal approach is that they have more tools at their disposal. With the state process, we have a limited regulatory framework of state law to work with. “
Roger Rayle, a longtime activist and supporter of the Gelman Plume site, told The Daily that the EPA’s next step will be critical in devising a plan to adequately control the contamination. He looks forward to the data collection and hopes to review the results in the near future.
“We need data because the only way we can get information about groundwater contamination is from sampling data,” said Rayle. “And if we don’t have enough samples, we don’t have a proper definition of the problem. Without a proper definition of the problem, you will not find a proper solution. “
Rayle also said he hoped the university would seek its resources to support efforts to study and research the impact of the cloud on community organization and governance. According to Rayle, these efforts will help address similar issues that may arise in the future. He also said the university is already closely tied to the history of the pen, as both Gelman and Bicknell are alumni of the university.
“Why not use this crisis as an opportunity and not only solve our current local problems here, but also other problems around the world?” Rayle said. “That’s what universities do … The university is involved in it, whether it wants it or not.”
Rita Mitchell, who lives in Ann Arbor, said she first heard of the Gelman Cloud in 1993, but has become more aware of the problem over the past 15 years. Mitchell said she appreciated all of the community members and local officials who campaigned for the cleanup, adding that she looked forward to the EPA’s cleanup effort.
“It was pretty amazing – the kind of persistence (community members and local officials) had to follow and create concern,” Mitchell said. “I’m thrilled, but I know there is still a lot to be done.”