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Gelman Firm's Case Illustrates State-industry Pollution Conflict

Gelman Firm's Case Illustrates State-industry Pollution Conflict image
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A classic illustration of conflict between the needs of a growing industry and the state's efforts to control water and air pollution has become visible just west of Ann Arbor. The situation is filled with paradoxes involving one of this area's most prominent research industries - Gelman Instrument Co. of 600 S. Wagner Rd., Scio Township. Ten years ago - an anniversary the firm will formally observe on Nov. 21- Charles Gelman, who holds a master's degree in public health from the University, established the company to manufacture filters and instruI ments for measuring and conI trolling air and water pollution. Certain of the firm's multiplyI ing line of producís, and production techniques, are unique. Functions range from maintaining clean air rooms essential in the U.S. space program to diagI nosing blood impurities to filtering beer at a Japanese brewery. Sales have risen from about $100,000 in 1959 to $6.4 million in fiscal 1969, which ended Aug. 1. The firm's estimates for 1969 include a profit of $250,000, contrasted to last year's loss of $19,977. In 1968, when sales reached $4.2 million, with 25 per cent in overseas markets, the firm rec e i v e d the President's "E" I award for excellence in conI tributing to growth in U.S. exI port trade. . The firm received a different sort of "E" rating this year, from Michigan's Water Resources Commission. That is the lowest rating the commission gives in its assessments of industrial waste treatment. Gelman's previous rating was "B." The "E" reflects state measurements of BOD count (biooxygen demanding substances) in two linked lagoons behind the Gelman plant. These were dug in 1964 and 1967 to receive water and solvents, following the manufacturing process, for aeration and evaporation. One recent test of wastes in the lagoons produced a BOD count of 1,200 miligrams per liter, "about four times the amount of organic water in normal, untreated domestic sewage." states David Dennis, a regional water quality official of the Water Éesources Commission. That test was made after the commission's "E" rating was given, Dennis adds. He states that tests last March and April produced BOD counts of 820 and 470. Complai.ntsby some Scio Township residents of odor and overflowing from the lagoons, more than a year ago, led the state commission to make its tests. The odor has been noticeable at times this year in Saginaw Forest, the University forestry department's 80-acre property immediately west of Gelman's 20 acres. Walter E. Lewis, consulting engineer to Gelman, readily acknowledges that he can sómetimes detect the odor outside his office at Washtenaw Engineering Co. at 859 S. Wagner Rd., about a quarter mile south of the Gelman plant. The lagoons, Gelman comments, were dug at the urging of the Water Resources Commission. "Our recommendation, because the solvents are nontoxic, was to go directly into Honey Creek (a tributary of the Huron River above Ann Arbor)." Kenneth Cooley of the Water Resources Commission's regional staff suggests that overflow from the lagoons gets into Honey Creek. Gelman officials do not discount this possibility. Lewis and Robert C. Medl, manager of chemical engineering at the Gelman plant, reply in the negative when asked if they have any quarrel with Dennis' statement that the BOD count in the lagoons has, at least once recently, reached a level four times that of raw domestic sewage. Lewis adds this important qualification: "It is unique sewage. There is no human waste involved." For security reasons, Medl is reluctant to state precisely what chemicals are involved in the firm's manufacturing and waste processes. Descriptions of materials arrjving at the plant are codified and never written down in one place, he states. Medl and Lewis do discount a rumor that wastes from the Gelman plant might be seeping into Third Sister Lake in Saginaw Forest. "It would have to "run uphill," Lewis comments. The only researcher known to have systematically tested water in Third Sister Lake recently is Assistant Prof. Michael E. Bender of the U-M School of Public Health. He says "levéis of nutrients and algae growth there are fairly high, but naturally high. I know of two similar studies done in the early 1930s that showed no oxygen in the bottom." (Third Sister Lake has a surface área of 11 acres and is 90 feet deep.) A desire to see more detailed studies of seepage throughout that area, and to have odors eliminated from the Gelman lagoons, is expressed by two U-M forestry department f a c u 1 1 y members, Assistant Prof. Beverly L. Driver and Associate Prof. John R. Bassett. They hope to use Saginaw Forest for experimentation in outdoor research facilities, "with a very minimum change Li its ecology." The forest is now used chiefly for various types of observations by U-M classes, more than for active research. Diagnosing the Gelman plant's overflow and odor problem is not difficult. Solving it apparently is. Increased water use is the key factor. Dennis states: "An order the Water Resources Commission granted to Gelman Instrument Co. in December, 1965, calis for processing 9,000 gallons of water daily, and says the BOD count of the lagoons is to be 'not injurious to public health.' They are applying now for a permit proposing 40,000 gallons a day. Public Act 245 is being violated if they're dumping more than 9,000." mffl lhe state commission's 1965 order is described by Medl as _ "badly out of date." Asked how much water the firm is now processing, Medl states: "We are processing about 20,000 gallons a day, maybe more. I know some days it is more. We have campaigns in the plant to use less water." Three wells provide this supply, he adds. Medl notes that the lágoon system "held the fort" against I odor and overflow "for about a year" after an aerator was I added in 1967- meaning the I goons provided adequate space during that period for bacteria to break down solvents at approximately the rate they were deposited as wastes. At the end of that year, production of a new filter, manufactured in foldable sheets instead of the disk form of other Gelman filters, created a rapid increase in water use and waste disposal, Medl explains. "Bacteria are still oxygizing the solvents, but we seem to have too many bacteria. It's a matter of getting more oxygen into the lagoons. "Anyonc could look at our sales figures and wonder why I we didn't foresee this increase in our water needs. We just didn't. We outgrew our clothing J a little. We're not happy about it. We're well aware it isn't 1 right. "If you want to grow, if you Iwant to give more jobs (Gelman I employment is now about 170 I f excluding U.S. and European I subsidiaries), you'd rather work on new producís than on waste disposal ... At present, the waste problem has top prior!■ Geímañsáidyesterday that I "management's position, from I the time we learned of our unI favorable rating, has been that I we will spend whatever is I needed to correct that situaI tion." Esrimates of what that I cost may be are not yet possiI ble, he and Medí add. The possibility of adding chemI icals such as preoxides which I might speed the break-down of I solvents in the lagoons has been I studied and discarded as too I costly - $1,200 to $1,500 daily- ■ I Medl states. I i He and Lewis now see the I best possibility for permanent I relief in experiments being conI ducted by Prof. Jack A. BorI chardt of the U-M 's civil engiI neering department. ■ Borchardt, in consultation 'M with Medl and Lewis, has de■ veloped a device which, it is I hoped, will precisely determine 'M amounts of oxygen needed in ?M the lagoons to maintain bacteria 1 in a quantity to break down il solvents, vhile avoiding an ex; I cess of bp.cteria. A platform from which to opI erate Borchardt's device, at the I waste outlet from the plant mto I the lagoon system, was built :l this week. If needed amounts of I oxygen are accurately I I mined, "proven" equipment to ■ perform oxygen "injections" H will be purchased, Medl and I I Gelman state. The Water Resources I I sion 'belicves the company does I want to correct the problem on ■ a permanent basis," says Coo:Bley He adds, however, that Üie ■ commission's staff is "wriüng Ban order of determination on Bthe quality of water they should .■put out." Medl comments: "We've told "ithe Water Resources Commisi 'M sion any order they issued could ■ be out of date almost as soon ■ as they issue it. We've urged ■ them to wait for Prof. Bor-.'■chardt's results. We're asking il'Why do it twice?' Our target date is February. "If there were a municipal ■Bsanitary system, there would be ' Bno problem. We and other firms il in the township have to do it Bthe best we knayw. There is ,. ï-Bno callousnessit