Polluters should pay
In 1986, 60 families living near the Gelman Science facility on Wagner Road in Ann Arbor were put on bottled water because dangerous levels of 1,4-dioxane were found in their wells by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). It was also found that the chemical had been leaking into the groundwater beneath the Saginaw forest.
Numerous studies have shown that dioxane causes cancerous tumors in rats. It was also linked to birth defects at the Love Canal, a chemical dump.
Gelman has since hired three law firms to help them fight a State lawsuit for damages resulting from their irresponsible handling of dioxane. The company's lawyers have been trying every trick in the book to absolve Gelman of the blame.
Gelman's tactics are contradictory. Gelman refuses to admit that dioxane is harmful to people. At the same time, they maintain that Gelman is not at fault for damages resulting from dioxane because Dow chemical company, where Gelman obtained the dioxane, did not properly instruct them on how to handle it.
Whether or not Dow provided the proper instructions, it is ludicrous for Gelman to play the innocent victim in this case. The evidence suggests that Gelman knew that they were doing something wrong, and that they did it anyway. A company does not create the second worst toxic waste site in the state of Michigan by accident, according to the EPA.
Gelman exists to make a profit, and proper disposal of toxic waste costs money. Unfortunately, it is extremely difficult to monitor the activities of the private sector, and watchdogs such as the DNR lack the resources to deal with all the companies that are threatening people's health and lives. Moreover, it is the companies that can afford to hire the most lawyers, as well as the most expensive ones.
- Gelman has known that there was a problem with the way they were disposing of dioxane for a long time. At least three times since February of 1981, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) distributed memos warning that dioxane was carcinogenit, and that the chemical could leak from its sewage lagoon and spray irrigation system into the groundwater.
- Two former employees of Gelman told the Ann Arbor News that they had been told to dump chemicals in what they thought was an improper manner.
- The company resisted performing studies and installing monitoring equipment that could have detected groundwater contamination before toxic chemical wastes migrated off company property.
- Gelman sprayed wastewater onto company land without a permit starting in 1972. It did not receive a permit for doing this until 1976, and this permit did not allow for spraying dioxane.
- Gelman has been extremely slow to deliver important data to the DNR. In July 1986, a hose carrying wastewater ruptured, spillint 18,000 gallons into the ground. Gelman didn't inform the DNR for 10 days, and the spill has still not been cleaned up.
Everybody knows that a corporation will try to get away with whatever it can. But it has to be hoped that this will be one of those rare cases in which the company will be forced to clean up its own deadly, multi-million dollar mess.Today, this remains an interesting piece of the history of Saginaw Forest. The caretaker back in 1987 wrote an entry about the "Gelman thing" -- something uncharacteristic in the tone of his entries (which mostly focus on stuff occurring inside the forest, and not wider issues). The relationship between the University of Michigan and PALL Life Science (who acquired Gelman several years ago) is normalized, and the extent to things that I've had to deal with PALL and 1,4-dioxane is quarterly monitoring visits from their techs and conversing with the security firm they hire to ensure that they know when SNRE students will be parking in their lot for the Homecoming campfire events. The only additional thing to this is when several monitoring wells were sporadically drilled from August 2010 until March 2011 (four sets of well holes drilled, three sets of wells installed). Hopefully, the "Gelman thing" will continue (with regard to Saginaw forest) to resolve itself into the future.