[Date Prev][Date Next][Date Index]

E-M:/ Harding Rules for Polluter in Washtenaw Cleanup

------------------------------------------------------------------------- Enviro-Mich message from mike garfield -------------------------------------------------------------------------
Never one to let science, expert witnesses, or even the reasoned opinion of his own administrative law judge cloud his pro-polluter philosophy, DEQ Director Russ Harding ruled Friday in favor of the owner of one of the state's largest environmental contamination sites.

Since 1984, Gelman Sciences, a Washtenaw County based medical filter manufacturer, has fought neighbors, local governments, and state officials to avoid cleaning up groundwater contaminated with 1,4-dioxane, a probable carcinogen. Now their belligerence will be rewarded.

Neighbors suffered first from this company. After losing their drinking water wells to the contaminant in the mid-1980s, they were forced to bear the cost of extending water and sewer service to their homes. The state's credibility was second to go. After slogging through numerous court battles in the late 1980s, the state finally entered into a consent order with the company designed to expedite the cleanup. But even a consent order couldn't get this company to do its cleanup right.

Despite overwhelming evidence that affordable technology could entirely detoxify the pollutant, the company hired a battalion of lawyers and lobbyists to sell a "pump-and-dump" plan to move the polluted groundwater to Honey Creek, a tiny tributary of the Huron River. A tenacious group of local activists fought the proposal, arguing that the additional cost of a full cleanup would be cheaper than the company's attorneys. In the mid-1990s, the company relented, agreeing to the local governments' demands in exchange for support of the company's MEGA tax break proposal. One year later, Gelman reneged on its promise.

The dispute continued despite a buyout of the company by Pall, Inc., a larger New York manufacturer. The facts of the case, however, were firmly against the company. Surface water dischargers are required to meet standards based on the performance of best available technology. In the case of 1,4-dioxane, the company's preferred technology had been proven capable of reducing concentrations below 3 parts per billion (ppb). In addition, the Clean Water Act prohibits degradation of pristine waters. Since Honey Creek had been shown to communicate with groundwater aquifers beneath it, the introduction of contaminated water into the creek would be a clear violation of the non-degradation standard.

Those were the clear findings of DEQ's Surface Water Quality Division in 1997, when it issued a fairly strict permit for the cleanup plan. Upon appeal, the permit was toughened by Richard LaCasse, a DEQ administrative law judge who has never been accused of an anti-business bias. The attorney general, meanwhile, began assessing fines which have topped $4 million for the company's violations of its consent order.

None of that mattered to Russ Harding. Keeping the interests of the DEQ's customers foremost in mind, Harding issued a permit significantly weaker than Surface Water's draft. Washtenaw County residents waited 16 long years for a real groundwater cleanup. Instead, Director Harding is giving them a new, polluted creek.

Mike Garfield

Mike Garfield
Ecology Center
117 N. Division
Ann Arbor, MI 48104
(734) 761-3186 ext. 104
(734) 663-2414 (fax)

============================================================== ENVIRO-MICH: Internet List and Forum for Michigan Environmental and Conservation Issues and Michigan-based Citizen Action. Archives at http://www.great-lakes.net/lists/enviro-mich/
Postings to: enviro-mich@great-lakes.net For info, send email to majordomo@great-lakes.net with a one-line message body of "info enviro-mich" ==============================================================