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MLive: Dingell raises concerns about dioxane plume in letter to EPA administrator

MLive

Ann Arbor, MI, October 25, 2016 | Ryan Stanton

U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell is reaching out to the Environmental Protection Agency, raising concerns about the Gelman dioxane plume spreading through the Ann Arbor area's groundwater.

Dingell, D-Dearborn, sent a letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy on Tuesday, Oct. 25, questioning current efforts to address the toxic chemical plume that has been spreading from the former Gelman Sciences site on Wagner Road for decades, now contaminating much of the groundwater on Ann Arbor's west side and parts of Scio Township west of the city.

The letter comes after recent developments, including the discovery of dioxane in shallow groundwater under Waterworks Park on Ann Arbor's west side, have increased the level of concern in the community.

Dingell said the recent reports of dioxane in shallow groundwater near a neighborhood are deeply troubling and raise questions about the adequacy of existing remediation efforts by Pall Corp. under the regulatory oversight of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.

Gelman Sciences was acquired in 1997 by Pall Corp., which was acquired last year by Danaher Corp., a multibillion-dollar corporation that some local officials and residents argue has the financial resources to do a better cleanup.

"This is clearly an issue that needs to be addressed immediately and it is my hope that this letter will help inform all stakeholders as we move forward toward a solution that will ensure this contamination is properly cleaned up," Dingell wrote in her letter to the EPA administrator on Tuesday.

"The contamination is the result of irresponsible business practices by Gelman Sciences, now owned by Pall Life Sciences, which incorporated the chemical in its manufacturing of medical filters in Scio Township, Michigan," Dingell wrote to McCarthy, recalling how wastewater containing 1,4-dioxane was sprayed on lawns and stored in unlined lagoons, seeping through soil and rock layers into the groundwater between 1966 and 1986.

Dioxane is classified by the EPA as likely to be carcinogenic to humans by all routes of exposure. It also can cause kidney and liver damage, and respiratory problems. Short-term exposure to high levels of dioxane in the air can cause eye, nose and throat irritation.

Dingell said the dioxane plume has greatly expanded over the last 20 years, now encompassing more than three square miles.

"It is troubling that the plume continues to grow even as remediation efforts are ongoing," she wrote to McCarthy, adding that the number of monitoring wells that have had their highest-ever reading has increased.

Dingell noted ongoing pump-and-treat remediation efforts by Pall/Gelman are being overseen by the DEQ pursuant to a consent decree.

"What role does EPA have in ensuring that MDEQ and Pall are living up to their obligations and meeting the terms of the consent decree?" Dingell asked in the letter. "Has EPA reviewed whether the remediation plan outlined in the consent decree is consistent with requirements of the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Clean Water Act? Based on available information, does EPA assess that the current level of contamination is an immediate threat to human health?"

Dingell said residents have been concerned the expansion of the plume could lead to greater health risks through vapor intrusion into buildings, and the DEQ acknowledges that is a potential exposure pathway.

"Recent testing has now detected 1,4-dioxane in shallow groundwater near a neighborhood," Dingell wrote. "Is EPA concerned that dioxane could be inhaled as vapor when it comes into contact with building foundations and basements?"

She also asked whether the EPA believes the presence of chloroform and trichloroethane, two other chemicals found in shallow groundwater on Ann Arbor's west side, could be related to the dioxane plume.

"Thank you for your prompt attention to these questions," Dingell wrote, concluding her letter.

Dingell's letter comes less than 24 hours after the Ann Arbor City Council voted Monday night, Oct. 24, to direct the city administrator to explore options for more expeditious and effective cleanup efforts and to seek Dingell's assistance in exploring whether the DEQ is fulfilling its delegated authority under the Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act.

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