Facts often get lost in sad story of Gelman Sciences cleanup
BY HOWARD HOLMES
I have read with bemused detachment the latest series of articles on the never-ending groundwater pollution problem of 1,4 dioxane, the latest being Judy McGovern’s “I told you so” article on July 29. In the article McGovern highlighted the arguments and warnings made by some residents as valid predictions of what has come to be. I, too, remember the many factors involved with this sad chapter, and was in a position to know more than most people as this problem evolved, I call attention to some additional facts that seem to get lost, forgive the pun, in the groundswell of emotion-based accusation that has always been a part of this debacle. The limited details your writer cited were certainly true from the residents’ point of view. Here are some others:
■ The company was told by the DNR in the mid-’70s to break the seals of their treatment ponds to prevent overflowing. This apparently was due to the DNR’s fear that biological and chemical contamination from the ponds would contaminate surface water in the area. The DNR’s reasoning then was the perk action from the ponds into the aquifer would clear the water of contaminants. Five years later the DNR realized their mistake and reversed the order, asking that the ponds be resealed.
■ Detection capability for measuring contamination in the parts per billion-level evolved after 1980, so there was no way knowing what was present at these levels before that time.
■ Political groups who wanted to get noticed for being involved early on thwarted the company’s initial proposals for speedy cleanup. The political and legal fights that ensued prevented an early start to containment. The cleanup was stalled for YEARS before it was allowed to proceed.
■ Of the many organic liquids used by Gelman Sciences, 1,4 dioxane is persistent in the environment because it is not metabolized by micro-organisms. It is, however, metabolized by multicellular ones. Good thing, too, as dioxane is found in a host of household products like shampoos and conditioners, and foods such as coffee, peanut butter and baby foods. It is also used as a rust inhibitor for vehicle radiator fluid, which is a common spill containment that no one appears concerned about.
■ There are no studies linking dioxane to human illness, but there are studies that show it is not persistent in human tissues.
The company may have been a contributor to local pollution, but they are far from being the only culprit. Dioxane, now detectable, is getting all the press. From a scientific point of view, I have always wondered, “why stop there?” Surely there are other, more sinister contaminants. The metals, salts and other organics in our area’s water have a much more damaging effect on our tissues and systems. And while we are at it, what about that whiff of benzene we get with each lungful of air? The self-appointed risk assessment groups in Scio and Ann Arbor have done a poor job truly measuring the air and water for all potential threats to the public. While they are congratulating themselves for the “I told you so” finger wagging done at one company, they have ignored all the other factors. Seems to me the easy road of accusation was chosen over doing some serious work to detect other threats.
I have no loyalty to Pall Life Sciences, but I do care about those few friends that are still employed there. These people are residents of this area, too, and deserve a fairer treatment than has been offered in the 22 years this problem has endured.
The self-appointed risk assessment groups in Scio and Ann Arbor have done a poor job truly measuring the air and water for all potential threats to the public.
Howard Holmes is a Chelsea resident. News readers can contribute essays of general interest to Other Voices. Please call the editorial page editor at 994-6764.
Pall Life Sciences
Pall Gelman Dioxane Groundwater Contamination Cleanup History
Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR)
Gelman Sciences Inc.
Letter to the Editor
Ann Arbor News
600 S Wagner Rd