What is 1,4-Dioxane?
1,4-dioxane is a synthetic industrial chemical that mixes completely in water. It persists for a very long time in the environment and is associated with many health risks. Manufacturers often use it as a solvent to create other chemicals like those found in cosmetics, detergents, shampoos, paint strippers, glues, pesticides, medicines and foods. It is also used in the manufacturing of pharmaceuticals and is a byproduct in the production of certain plastic containers.
1,4-Dioxane and your health
The EPA suspects 1,4-dioxane may cause cancer when people are exposed to it through air, water, or by skin contact over time. Short-term exposure effects include eye and nose irritation. Other long-term exposure effects may include liver and kidney damage.
1,4-Dioxane and the Huron River watershed
A large 1,4-dioxane plume is spreading beneath western Ann Arbor and Scio Township due to decades of pollution from the Gelman Sciences (now Pall Corp., a division of Danaher Corp.) facility on Wagner Road. A plume is an area underground where the dioxane is moving through soil or water. The plume exists because dioxane does not stick to soil particles, so it can move from soil into groundwater and eventually reach surface water. The plume likely originated around 1966 when Gelman began using dioxane to manufacture various medical and scientific products.
In 1984, University of Michigan Public Health graduate student Dan Bicknell discovered 1,4-dioxane in Third Sister Lake in west Ann Arbor near the Gelman property. By 1985, the Washtenaw County Health Board found the presence of dioxane in 30 water supply wells north of the Gelman property. The state initially sued Gelman in 1988, leading to a 1992 Circuit Court consent judgement, in which Gelman agreed to pay the state over $1 million in damages and begin a $4 million cleanup project.
Gelman has spent years conducting pump-and-treat remediation under court orders, gradually extracting contaminated water from the ground and treating it to remove dioxane the company once dumped into the environment. The treated water with lower levels of dioxane is then discharged to a tributary of Honey Creek, which flows to the Huron River.
Between 1995 and 2000, then Governor Engler and the Michigan State Legislature took a series of actions that increased the allowed level of 1,4-dioxane in residential groundwater from 3 ppb (parts per billion) to 85 ppb―much higher than the EPA’s guideline of 0.35 ppb.
In 2016 traces of 1,4-dioxane were found beneath Waterworks Park in west Ann Arbor. In response, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (now the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy or EGLE) set an emergency standard of 7.2 ppb allowed in residential drinking water. The emergency rule was made permanent in 2017. That same year, HRWC, the City of Ann Arbor, Scio Township and Washtenaw County joined the state’s lawsuit against Gelman to negotiate for a stronger clean up.
In 2019 and 2020, elected officials from the City of Ann Arbor, Scio Township, Ann Arbor Township, and Washtenaw County held forums to discuss the option of pursuing Superfund designation for the dioxane plume , which would place the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in charge of cleanup activities at the site instead of the State of Michigan. HRWC informed these discussions and remains committed to the legal negotiations as the current best way forward. No decision has yet been made by the affected communities to pursue Superfund status.
Scientific monitoring shows that, despite prolonged attempts to mitigate the spread of the of the dioxane plume, it continues to grow.
What HRWC is doing
To protect the Huron River, we have taken steps to limit the spread the dioxane plume. In 2016, HRWC the City of Ann Arbor, and Washtenaw County joined the state’s lawsuit against Gelman. HRWC’s motivation for joining the lawsuit was our belief that the river needed a strong advocate and our concern for impacts to the river stemming from a lack of cleanup action. Former Executive Director Laura Rubin said “the city will represent concerns about groundwater contamination and the county’s focus will be well water contamination. But we feel the interests of the river are at risk and that nobody’s representing those.” The dioxane could affect fish and other aquatic life, as well as people, if it gets to our streams or the Huron River itself.
HRWC is committed to securing a new court order for a better cleanup of the dioxane plume.
Gelman 1,4-Dioxane Litigation
On August 31, 2020, the Washtenaw County Circuit Court partially lifted the confidentiality restriction against disclosure of the negotiations between Gelman Sciences, the State of Michigan and the intervenors (City of Ann Arbor, Scio Township, Washtenaw County and its Health Department, and HRWC). The proposed settlement documents that resulted from these negotiations are now public and can be viewed via a document repository webpage. The proposed documents, which still need to be voted on by the intervenors, include the Fourth Amendment to the 1992 Consent Judgment, Dismissal Order, and Settlement Agreements. Other documents and a set of videos that help with an understanding of the proposed settlement documents are also available on the repository webpage.
There will be opportunities for public input. It is anticipated that one or more work sessions could be scheduled of Ann Arbor City Council, Washtenaw County Board, and the Scio Township Board. Future public meetings and engagement will be scheduled and announced by each of the respective local governments.
Gelman Proposed Settlement Documents Repository Page, includes Consent Judgment proposed fourth amendment and related documents
Gelman 1,4-Dioxane Litigation Page, includes historic timeline and answers to frequently asked questions
News Release, issued August 31, 2020
Upcoming Public Meetings
September 14, 2020, 6-8pm, EGLE public comment meeting. Written public comments accepted until September 21.
September 24, 2020, 6:30pm, Q&A and public hearing with Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners, Ann Arbor City Council, Congresswoman Dingell and Intervenors’ expert Dr. Lawrence Lemke. Submit questions by September 18. Written comments are welcome at any time as are oral comments on September 24.
What you can do
If you are using a well system, you should have your water tested regularly. If you live directly over the plume or near the edge of it, EGLE should have contacted you about doing testing, all you must do is allow it. If you have not been contacted and your well water is not being tested, please contact Jennifer Conn at Washtenaw County Health Department (734) 222-3855 or Dan Hamel at EGLE (517) 780-7832.
If you are connected to the City of Ann Arbor’s water supply, you can read the latest Water Quality Report to find out more about 1,4-dioxane levels.
If you would like to test your water, you are responsible for any cost. See Testing Your Drinking Water for 1,4-Dioxane. There are three laboratories located near our community that you can use.