ANN ARBOR, Mich. (Michigan News Source) – Upon revisiting the June 2021 order forcing Gelman Sciences Inc. to increase its remediation efforts on a large groundwater plume of cancer-causing dioxane beneath the Ann Arbor area, the Michigan Court of Appeals rejected the Washtenaw County Circuit judge’s order last week.   

This ruling reverses a 2011 Washtenaw Circuit Court consent judgment between Gelman and the state of Michigan.  At the time of the judgment, the prohibition zone restricting groundwater usage in an area of Ann Arbor and Scio and Ann Arbor Townships was based on a drinking water standard of 85 parts per billion of dioxane.  In 2016, the standard was reduced to 7.2 parts per billion after the first standard was found not sufficient to protect the public health of the area according to the Detroit Free Press. 

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The dioxane contamination has been an issue since the mid-60s.  From 1966 until 1986, Gelman Sciences used the dioxane in their manufacturing processes in their facility on Wagner Road according to the Washtenaw County Health Department.  The solvent is used for manufacturing other chemicals and is a by-product of many items such as: greases, dyes, antifreeze and aircraft deicing fluids, and paint strippers. Cosmetics, deodorants, detergents, and shampoos also use it in the manufacturing process. 

The dioxane does not break down rapidly in water and the plume is on the move says the Detroit Free Press. 

The Ann Arbor main intake area for their water supply – which serves 120,000 residents – is at risk of contamination by the plume.  The groundwater contamination plume is more than 4 miles long, a mile wide and has no confirmed depth.  Despite nearly 30 years of cleanup efforts, the plume remains and is moving farther from the original contamination zone. At its highest, the water was measured at 200,000 parts per billion – far higher than the state’s 7.2 parts per billion standard. 

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A Washtenaw County Circuit judge established a three and a half mile long by one and a half mile wide prohibition zone in the city of Ann Arbor and Scio and Ann Arbor Townships in which home and business owners are forbidden from installing water wells or using the tainted groundwater.  After the recent decision by the Washtenaw Circuit Court, the zone boundaries will revert to the 2011 boundaries until further action is taken by the court. 

The court found a lack of any legal findings that Gelman was singularly responsible for the dioxane contamination.  

“In 1991, the trial court dismissed the majority of the claims against Gelman, and the state and Gelman settled the remaining claims. The intervenors have yet to assert any claims. … Thus, there has also been no determination in this case that Gelman is liable to anyone,” the appellate judges said. 

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The court also called for the EPA to intervene in the dioxane plume cleanup efforts. 

Michigan Department Environment, Great Lakes and Energy Director Liesl Clark last year sent a letter to the EPA indicating the state’s willingness to explore the possibility. EPA contractors are slated to conduct soil, surface water and groundwater tests in the area later this month.