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Posted on Wed, Sep 4, 2013 : 5:59 a.m.

Ann Arbor calls on DEQ to tighten standards for dioxane cleanup: 'It's way overdue'

By Ryan J. Stanton


This map produced by the Environmental Health Division of the Washtenaw County Department of Public Health shows the latest estimation of the footprint of the Pall-Gelman 1,4-dioxane plume. Local officials say the contamination is spreading through a system of underground streams, contaminating the groundwater in those areas. Download larger version.

Courtesy of Washtenaw County Department of Public Health

Fearing the city's primary drinking water source could be at risk of contamination in the years ahead, Ann Arbor officials took action Tuesday night to send a message to the state.

By a 9-0 vote, the City Council approved a resolution that urges the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to use the best science available about 1,4-dioxane to set stricter cleanup criteria for the cancerous pollutant found in the groundwater on the city's west side.

"It is way overdue that the DEQ do something," said Mayor John Hieftje, who joined Council Members Sabra Briere and Chuck Warpehoski in sponsoring the resolution.

Based on a toxicological review from 2010, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency now thinks dioxane is even more cancerous than previously believed.


John Hieftje

According to the EPA's findings, 3.5 parts per billion of dioxane in drinking water poses a 1 in 100,000 residual cancer risk.

The state DEQ for the last several years has enforced a cleanup standard of 85 parts per billion, which is intended to result a 1 in 100,000 residual cancer risk.

Ann Arbor officials want to see the Pall-Gelman dioxane plume that's creeping further into the city's groundwater from Scio Township cleaned up to a higher standard before it hits the Huron River.

Gelman Sciences, which later became Pall Life Sciences, used the industrial solvent 1,4-dioxane in its processes for the manufacture of medical filters on Wagner Road many years ago.

Between 1966 and 1986, wastewater containing the toxic chemical was sprayed on its lawns and stored in unlined lagoons. The dioxane seeped through soil and rock layers into the groundwater and began to spread, leaving parts of the city and Scio and Ann Arbor townships contaminated.

Environmental monitoring and remediation efforts are ongoing and are being tracked by the DEQ, even as Pall announced this year it is closing its business operations here.

Roger Rayle, leader of a group called Scio Residents for Safe Water, spoke in support of the council's resolution at Tuesday's meeting.

"The DEQ has been dragging its feet on this for more than two years and they're acting like they're never going to tighten the standards," he said.

"I'll remind everyone that in 1995, when the standards were loosened under the guise of cleaning up urban brownfields, the standards were changed basically overnight to the benefit of the polluters."

The council's resolution notes the DEQ missed its self-imposed deadline of December 2012 to set new cleanup criteria based on the EPA toxicological review.

The DEQ's deadline for revising the criteria was extended until Dec. 31, 2013, but city officials said it appears unlikely even that deadline will be met now.

Sybil Kolon, the DEQ's project manager for the Pall-Gelman plume site since 1995, cited a lack of consensus between the regulated community and environmental health officials as one reason for the delay in adopting new cleanup criteria for dioxane.

"That got put off until this December and there's supposed to be a public process related to that," she said. "I'm hopeful that we're going to get news on that in the next week or so."

Council members expressed concerns Tuesday night that they still see the plume spreading, and they don't believe the most effective cleanup methods are being used. They're particularly worried what might happen if the contamination spreads to the Huron River.

About 85 percent of the city's drinking water comes from an intake pipe at Barton Pond on the Huron River, while 15 percent comes from wells located at the city's airport. The city already had to shut off a well station on the west side of the city about a decade ago because of the plume.

Given the rate the plume has moved since it first developed decades ago, Briere said, it could be 20-plus years before it gets to Barton Pond — if it even heads in that direction.

Some believe it will hit the Allen Creek before that happens and be channeled to the Huron River at a point beyond the city's drinking water supply intake. At that point, the dioxane concentrations would be diluted, Kolon said, and there are no drinking water intakes downstream from Barton.

Council Member Stephen Kunselman, D-3rd Ward, said the dioxane plume issue has dragged on for a long time and he's not inclined to rely on the DEQ or the EPA.

He wondered what the city could do on its own — as a future contingency plan — to protect its primary drinking water source if the dioxane plume makes it to Barton Pond.

"That's the question that we need to address," he said. "I don't know if we have the wherewithal to do something like pump out Barton Pond and refill it with something else.

"But what would we do? Would we have to take it upon ourselves to filter out the dioxane before we pump water to our residents?"

He pondered whether the city might connect to the Detroit water system if Ann Arbor's drinking water supply became contaminated with dioxane.

Hieftje said he'd like to see a broader community conversation happen to address some of the longer-term concerns. He stressed there's no imminent threat to the city's water supply.

But he said he's been concerned about the dioxane issue since before he became involved in city government in 1999, and he's glad the city is pushing for action in Lansing.

"Our consultant in Lansing has been working pretty hard on this issue for quite a long time and has been working very hard this past year to keep it in front of the DEQ," he said, adding Tuesday night's unanimous resolution gives the city's consultant "a little more to work with."

Matt Naud, the city's environmental coordinator, said he's been working on the issue since the fall of 2001. Changing the statewide cleanup standards for dioxane, he said, would radically change the attention given to the Pall-Gelman plume.

Naud said the city is keeping tabs on dioxane levels in the groundwater below Ann Arbor using data from probably a couple hundred monitoring wells.

He said the city has never detected dioxane in Barton Pond. Pall also tests for dioxane where the Honey Creek meets the Huron River, Naud said, noting that will give the city an alert if there ever is an issue with contaminated water heading downstream.

Kolon, who lives in Manchester Township, said she believes public health and the environment are being protected, even though the plume is expanding further into Ann Arbor.

"We are well aware that some of the citizens have concerns about future exposure risks, including the Barton Pond issue," she said, suggesting adequate monitoring is in place to detect if the plume is moving in that direction well before it becomes a risk to the public.

"The spreading toxic plume is not a surprise," she added. "The plume is migrating, but the company has to track it and address it if it's going outside the areas where people could be exposed. There is a little bit of concern to the south and we're watching that very carefully."

But at this point, she said, there's no evidence any concentrations above 85 ppb have migrated out of the zone where groundwater use is prohibited.

Naud lamented that the DEQ allowed Pall to change its cleanup methods. Pall is now using an ozone-oxidation process to remove dioxane from water that's extracted from the ground in the plume area and then discharged to the Honey Creek.

"The DEQ allowed them to change their treatment technology and it actually puts more 1,4-dioxane and an additional carcinogen in the water instead of what they did before," Naud said.

Pall's official position has been that it's in full compliance with a consent judgment the company entered with the DEQ, which serves as the legal framework for the cleanup, and the ozone-oxidation treatment technology it's using has been approved by the state.

Bromate is a byproduct of the treatment process. Kolon said it's not allowed to be in the water Pall is discharging at greater than 10 ppb.

According to publicly available reports, Pall removed roughly 640 pounds of dioxane in the first half of this year by extracting 150 million gallons of groundwater, treating it using an ozone-oxidation process, and discharging the remaining water into the Honey Creek.

Since May 1997, when major cleanup activities started, nearly 90,000 pounds of dioxane have been removed and roughly 6.8 billion gallons of water treated and discharged.

"Based on our current law and the consent judgment, we can only do what is required under the law and we think that is being met," Kolon said. "We understand that the community doesn't want any dioxane in its water, but unfortunately that's not the standard we're able to enforce.

"That's certainly not an imminent threat," she added. "I think they're using very good technology. Could they do more? Of course."

Jane Lumm and Marcia Higgins were absent Tuesday.

Ryan J. Stanton covers government and politics for Reach him at or 734-623-2529. You also can follow him on Twitter or subscribe to's email newsletters.


Kai Petainen

Wed, Sep 4, 2013 : 11:04 p.m.

I don't understand something... Why didn't the HRWC say anything about the dioxane? I'd figure that they'd be the first ones to be there talking...

Kai Petainen

Wed, Sep 4, 2013 : 10:15 p.m.

This is off-topic as it doesn't relate to dioxane, but as this is the only article on last nights meeting... It's scary that the resolution to sell energy stocks from the portfolio almost passed. That's scary. It would have been socially irresponsible to do that....


Wed, Sep 4, 2013 : 10:06 p.m.

Stephen Kunselman wants to problem-solve. If the parties that should be solving the problem have not been and it's way overdue, we need to do something now to insure the safety of our water. Let's not play a waiting game while the problem gets worse, in other words. Don't just say, our water is still safe and things like that. There's a clear and predictable danger. Our water is too important to let it be a political football between these agencies or the head-in-the-sand approach of the mayor. What is more important than our water. Not much. Water. People can get all heated about things like the dam and the rowers on the Huron river, but when it comes to really important issues that lead to the safety and viability of our community, we hear very little. Why is that? No, I do not want to use Detroit water. I want us to control our water supply locally. Cost is only one factor of many factors in that discussion. Thanks, Stephen.


Wed, Sep 4, 2013 : 9:20 p.m.

you know, this doesn't surprise, me, although this issue is new to me, but over the past 2 years in particular, I have noticed a difference in the taste of our water. In addition, my rather young dog has developed gray hairs where her face regularly makes contact with the water. This being said, and now reading the article, this may be a naive question, but is the water then TECHNICALLY safe to drink? I use a filtering system, but I'd like to hear the mass, EDUCATED opinion on this to determine my next move.

Kai Petainen

Wed, Sep 4, 2013 : 10:01 p.m.

I'm not a scientist, but I'm quite sure that the water is safe to drink. The city takes precautions and they monitor the water closely. Now if your dog is drinking straight from the river... that might be a totally different story...


Wed, Sep 4, 2013 : 5:31 p.m.

This is what happens when you live in a society thats driving force is greed. Short-term profits and stopping regulation are much more important than people's health and the environment around us. SICKENING.


Wed, Sep 4, 2013 : 2:59 p.m.

"Pall also tests for dioxane where the Honey Creek meets the Huron River, Naud said..." Isn't it a conflict of interest to have Pall testing anything?

Roger Rayle

Wed, Sep 4, 2013 : 5:51 p.m.

It's normal for the responsible party (in this case Pall) to do the testing with occasional "split sampling" by the regulator (the DEQ). What's troubling recently about the Pall/Gelman site was the significant number of Pall's samples that were held beyond the 14-day holding period, effectively invalidating those results... and that's using an outdated sampling method, not the currently EPA recommended protocol which has a shorter 7-day holding period. Also a recent split sampling the DEQ did (after Pall reported several supposedly false-positive hits near the edges of the Prohibition Zones) showed DEQ's results being consistently 20-25% higher than Pall's results for the same samples. That should never happen. While the DEQ is using a better sample analysis protocol, it also is not using the latest one recommended by the EPA.

Basic Bob

Wed, Sep 4, 2013 : 5:43 p.m.

no, the samples are split and can be retested to confirm their reports. pall is spending a lot of money on cleanup, and operating a lab is a significant part of that cost. for the government or neutral third party to take on that responsibility, a new agreement would be required, since the costs to pall would no longer be in their control. imagine what a government contractor would charge, maybe five or ten times more. that would result in less cleanup.


Wed, Sep 4, 2013 : 2:57 p.m.

"Hieftje said he'd like to see a broader community conversation happen to address some of the longer-term concerns." What does that even mean?


Wed, Sep 4, 2013 : 10:06 p.m.

It's the way that Ross Perot described the GM culture as being one of: Ready. Aim. Aim. Aim. Aim. Aim.... and never actually getting around to pulling the trigger.


Wed, Sep 4, 2013 : 9:58 p.m.

Let's keep talking and draw this thing out! That's what it usually means.


Wed, Sep 4, 2013 : 2:19 p.m.

Wow. A resolution from Ann Arbor City Council. Now, things should get moving, for sure.... end sarcasm.

Vivienne Armentrout

Wed, Sep 4, 2013 : 1:43 p.m.

I've now read the revised version which Sabra Briere presented to the Council last night and was actually passed. It is much improved because it removes a phrase that could be interpreted as a slap at the MDEQ and adds a recognition of all the work that has been done by many citizens and local officials over the last couple of decades. This should only be a beginning. I'm glad that Council is once again focused on the issue. The Mayor and earlier councils chose to ignore it.


Wed, Sep 4, 2013 : 1:01 p.m.

You bet it's way overdue, mayor. So what have you been doing? Too busy with the monorail plans? A2Politico has a good article on this debacle:

Fred Pettit

Wed, Sep 4, 2013 : 3:44 p.m.

My thought exactly Brad. Add council to that also....including the self proclaimed "scientist" that used to represent the 5th Ward. This mayor and council have been useless in providing services and policies that are in the best interest of the taxpayers of Ann Arbor.


Wed, Sep 4, 2013 : 12:25 p.m.

Best science meets best business practices...guess which one wins at the DEQ?

Linda Peck

Wed, Sep 4, 2013 : 12:10 p.m.

Thank you City Council.

Stephen Lange Ranzini

Wed, Sep 4, 2013 : 11:56 a.m.

The city of Ann Arbor settled its lawsuit against Pall in 2004. It received very little for settling. Under the agreement, Pall agreed to cap the dioxane released into the Huron River at 30 parts per billion in the waste water discharge during Summer months when the water level is lower:,%20Ann%20Arbor%20settle%20lawsuit.htm Why doesn't @Ryan Stanton ask Mayor Hieftje whether or not he thinks it was a wise idea to settle this lawsuit and why he voted to do so?

Vivienne Armentrout

Wed, Sep 4, 2013 : 1:44 p.m.

The more important lawsuit was settled in 2006. Too long to summarize here. It gave away much of the city's ability to deal with the problem.

Stephen Lange Ranzini

Wed, Sep 4, 2013 : 12:01 p.m.

Sorry about the link being cut off. to the rescue! The link to the Ann Arbor News article about the settlement is available at:

Stephen Lange Ranzini

Wed, Sep 4, 2013 : 11:49 a.m.

"Since May 1997, when major cleanup activities started, nearly 90,000 pounds of dioxane have been removed." "Gelman used a reported 800,000 pounds of 1,4 dioxane." [See:] Gee. Only 710,000 pounds to go. Only 3.5 parts per billion in our drinking water will kill 1 out of 100,000 residents according to the EPA's research cited in the news story above.

Roger Rayle

Wed, Sep 4, 2013 : 4:41 p.m.

Some of the over 800,000 lbs of dioxane was bio-remediated by Gelman Sciences in their various treatment attempts or by naturally occurring organisms in the ground... we just don't know how much. We do know that the cleanup has removed more dioxane that the company estimated was left in the groundwater. Gelman Sciences' 11/30/88 estimate of 64,000 lbs that needed to be removed to bring dioxane levels down to 3 ppb or less did not include the huge mass of dioxane not yet then detected in the deeper E aquifers. Nor did the later Pall/Gelman estimate of 80,000 lbs used as criteria for the "5-year plan" include the dioxane in the E aquifer. We (SRSW & CARD) have asked the DEQ to require the company to do an annual calculation of how much dioxane is left so we can see if year_i_mass - mass_removed = year_i+1_mass and how good are Pall's assessments... but the DEQ has eschewed this idea. We just don't know how much dioxane is left to spread. Much of it may still be leaching from the soils and shallow aquifers on or near the Pall/Gelman property that are not being remediated and are rarely monitored. Tightening the DEQ standards to match the EPA guidelines would help address this.

Ryan J. Stanton

Wed, Sep 4, 2013 : 3:25 p.m.

Sybil Kolon of the DEQ tells me it is likely that much of the 800,000 pounds of dioxane being referenced here ran off into Third Sister Lake and the Honey Creek tributary, and then to the Huron River/Lake Erie, in the 1970s and '80s, so all of it did not soak into the ground. She said people should not realistically expect anywhere near 800,000 pounds should be remediated here — some of it simply will not be captured.


Wed, Sep 4, 2013 : 1:41 p.m.

No one said anything about the concentration killing 1 in 100,000. The criterion is set based on an increase of 1 in a 100,000 in the RISK of cancer, that doesn't mean 1 in 100,000 are actually going to get cancer or that if they get cancer they are going to die. Much in the same way the risk of being in a fatal airplane crash doesn't mean that that exact number of people are going to die in crashes. Also, the criterion is calculated for Residential exposure, which has some very conservative assumptions including that the exposure duration is >50 years and that the majority of the persons water intake is from that source. Considering most people don't live in one place for 50 years your individual risk is considerably lower.

Steve Bean

Wed, Sep 4, 2013 : 12:21 p.m.

Stephen's citing of those numbers raises the question of whether any portion of the material was still in the lagoons and immediately or subsequently treated before soaking into the ground. Also whether anyone has estimated the amount that was adequately broken down by exposure to UV light during the surface spreading or lagoon storage. Was it sprayed at night or during the day? Of course, all those questions are secondary to the current concentration levels—how much there is matters less than how diluted it is, at least for humans.

The Picker

Wed, Sep 4, 2013 : 12:14 p.m.

Thanks Stephen !

Stephen Lange Ranzini

Wed, Sep 4, 2013 : 11:32 a.m.

Why doesn't @Ryan Stanton seek a comment on this issue from Judge Shelton, who controls the Consent Judgement in his court? Why does Judge Shelton fail to act to improve the clean-up effort, when he could? Why doesn't City Council demand an answer from him?


Wed, Sep 4, 2013 : 1:08 p.m.

That is a very good question.


Wed, Sep 4, 2013 : 1:01 p.m.

Great idea. He is definitely a central character in this disaster.

The Picker

Wed, Sep 4, 2013 : 11:29 a.m.

How many pounds of dioxane did Gelman use between 1966 ~ 1986 ? 90,000lbs removed so far ! WOW!!!


Wed, Sep 4, 2013 : 9 p.m.

That stuff used to come out the Dow Chemical facility on trains in tanker cars, there would be 6-8 cars of it in each train. We would watch it roll by our office windows every day, hoping it wouldn't jump the track. There is a lot of that stuff out there in the world.

glenn thompson

Wed, Sep 4, 2013 : 12:25 p.m.

About 900,000

Eduard Copely

Wed, Sep 4, 2013 : 11:20 a.m.

Pure Michigan.

Laura J

Wed, Sep 4, 2013 : 11:19 a.m.

When they say, "It's way overdue!", I say, "Yes, by about 18 years.


Wed, Sep 4, 2013 : 10:48 a.m.

"Our consultant in Lansing has been working pretty hard on this issue for quite a long time " We have a permanent consultant? How many permanent consultants does the city have? What is all their pay?, is there a place where citizens can get the job descriptions and salary of all people employed by the city and/or paid with tax money (not just city tax; any tax)? I'm interested in the Environmental Coordinator's description and pay as well. Is he part of the Parks Department? I wonder how much overlap and unnecessary staffing we have in this city (where our property taxes are higher than 80% of the rest of the country but our roads and sidewalks are worse than 90% of the rest of the country). Oh, and I hope our water doesn't get poisoned.

Stephen Lange Ranzini

Wed, Sep 4, 2013 : 12:03 p.m.

The Mayor is referring to former state rep. Kirk Profit of the lobbying firm GCSI:


Wed, Sep 4, 2013 : 11:29 a.m.

Public. Art. Administrator.

Basic Bob

Wed, Sep 4, 2013 : 10:47 a.m.

More pseudo-science coming from council in an attempt to sway the election. After decades of study, there is no groundwater flow model indicating potential contamination of Ann Arbor's drinking water intake at Barton Pond. If bromate is such a concern, the city need to look at why their own water treatment plant puts up to 8.3 ppb in your household drinking water, far more than Pall puts in a dirty stream.


Wed, Sep 4, 2013 : 10:44 a.m.

Everyone desires and deserves clean drinking water. It's a worldwide issue. It's the most basic human need. Additionally, a2 residents desire and deserve city government that does more than pass paper resolutions that instruct others to correct its crucial problems. Happy for the resolution? Me too. Let us enjoy the elation as long as we can. Next, we can all hope that something magical and wonderful happens from mayor and council's disjointed dictatorial wish. Meanwhile, we can watch how high the EPA, MDEQ, and Pall jump to the command of mighty a2 government. Also, watch that consent judgment transform according to council's pronouncement. Once again, Kunselman seems to have it right: "He's not inclined to rely on the DEQ or the EPA." If the city actually wants additional positive result in remedying this issue, it will have to actually participate as a collaborator in the clean up. It must actually "do" something to aid in this cleanup. This is unlikely, as the city has more "important plans and activities" than proactively protecting our drinking water. After all, public safety is a low priority here. So it is. The mayor's "valued and vaunted comprehensive transportation focus" will continue. Then, the same trains and busses that bring people into a2 will be just as effective helping them leave.


Thu, Sep 5, 2013 : 6:05 p.m.

@Brad, The SCOTUS has determined that a local government can NOT make more stringent environmental standards than the Federal government, The local politicians can yell and scream all they want, but the corporation only needs to listen to the state and federal rules and regs. Acid rain is in the discussion because issues that may appear LOCAL, can spread to become GLOBAL. That is precisely what this issue is.


Wed, Sep 4, 2013 : 2:34 p.m.

Actually this particular environmental is about as LOCAL as you can get - the aquifer underneath us. Not sure how the acid rain got into this discussion.


Wed, Sep 4, 2013 : 2:10 p.m.

What do you expect the CITY government to do? They are at the whim of the EPA and DEQ. It is like your boss telling you , you deserve a raise, but his boss and his bosses boss both say there will be no raises this year. Guess what? You do not get a raise. Canada has very strong environmental controls, yet still got plenty of acid rain from the US, because they do not. Environmental issues need to be tackled at a GLOBAL level, because of things like ground water and things in the air not just staying in place


Wed, Sep 4, 2013 : 12:23 p.m.

What would you like them to do?

Alan Goldsmith

Wed, Sep 4, 2013 : 10:17 a.m.

""It is way overdue that the DEQ do something," said Mayor John Hieftje..." "Matt Naud, the city's environmental coordinator, said he's been working on the issue since the fall of 2001." So, the Mayor has been in office over a decade and Matt Naud has been 'working on the issue' since 2001? The first has been silent for more than ten years and Mr. Naud apparently has done little on the issue that's resulted in any changes. Lack of leadership resulting once again in negative outcomes for our city. What's that phrase again: Credit for everything, blame for nothing seems to be par for the course. But we have a nice, shiny water fountain at the City Center Building if you want to see a waste water accomplishment and rumblings of plans for $300K plus in 'art' for the water treatment plant project. Take a bow Mr. Mayor.