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City Wants Pall to Clean Up Spreading Toxic '1, 4 Dioxane' Plume
The City of Ann Arbor has filed a lawsuit in Washtenaw County Circuit Court against Pall Life Sciences, a wholly owned subsidiary of New York-based Pall Corporation.
The lawsuit demands that Pall pay damages and requests that Pall be required to provide a substitute water source for a supply well contaminated by a toxic plume -- now 18 million square feet and growing -- of "1, 4 Dioxane," which is spreading under the City. The plume is officially known as the "Unit E Plume."
Ann Arbor City attorney Stephen K. Postema announced the filing of the lawsuit. "The City of Ann Arbor's lawsuit seeks to have Pall pay for the damage it has caused," Postema said.
Costs of finding new water sources, drilling wells, installing pipelines and other infrastructure needed to provide a replacement for the contaminated City well until Pall's plume is cleansed, represents a portion of the costs to the City.
"We have already taken protective actions by closing one of our municipal water wells," explained Ann Arbor water utilities director Sue McCormick.
"During routine testing, the City discovered that one of its water supply wells contained trace amounts of 1, 4 Dioxane," McCormick said. "That well was primarily used in the past during the winter season. It has not been used since the 1, 4 Dioxane was discovered.
"We are searching for alternatives to the well. Those alternatives are going to cost money. Pall should shoulder those costs, not Ann Arbor's citizens," McCormick said.
"Our municipal water is safe for all uses, but the long term future is threatened," McCormick said. "Our water meets all published environmental and health standards. We engage in continuous testing. We shall never hesitate to protect the purity of Ann Arbor's drinking water."
The Unit E Plume was discovered about two years ago and is an extension of the more widespread underground environmental contamination in Washtenaw County that the company has caused, and known about for more than 15 years, according to the complaint filed by Ann Arbor.
Other, earlier discovered plumes have spread west and northeast, resulting in the contamination of residential drinking water wells including Westover and Evergreen subdivisions and parts of Scio Township, forcing some water users to rely on bottled water until they were connected to Ann Arbor water lines.
The Unit E Plume has moved east from Pall's South Wagner Road (600 South Wagner Road) property into the City. The plume's leading edge has now passed Maple Road and Veterans Memorial Park. Significantly higher concentrations have moved under Veterans Memorial Park in the last year, according to the complaint.
1, 4 Dioxane was previously used as a manufacturing solvent at the company's plant. Dioxane-containing waste was disposed of by storing it in unlined lagoons, and by spraying it over fields on Pall's property.
Because of Pall's contamination, a separate but related lawsuit was filed by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) in 1988. That resulted in Washtenaw County Circuit Court Judge Donald E. Shelton ordering Pall Life Sciences to stop the underground contamination spread and to complete other corrective actions with a July, 2005 deadline.
"We greatly value and appreciate the program ordered three-and-a-half years ago by Judge Shelton to complete the clean-up by July 2005, only 14 months away," Matthew Naud, Ann Arbor environmental coordinator said. "Judge Shelton put an appropriate plan in place that gave Pall five years to correct its problems.
"Ann Arbor's new lawsuit is different from the existing MDEQ action," Naud explained. "The goal of the MDEQ is limited to forcing Pall to live up to State of Michigan environmental standards.
"In contrast, Ann Arbor's lawsuit seeks compensation for damages Pall's contamination has caused to Ann Arbor. The City's actual damages are not part of the MDEQ lawsuit. The City's lawsuit also seeks Court orders compelling Pall to provide a clean replacement for the contaminated water supply well until Pall cleans up its contamination from that aquifer," Naud added.
Concerning the MDEQ lawsuit, Naud said, "We are deeply concerned that Pall, in its latest study of its toxic plume heading into Ann Arbor, proposes that no active clean up should be performed. Instead, Pall's study filed with the MDEQ clearly states that Pall's preferred alternative action would be to allow the plume to simply continue under the heart of Ann Arbor until it eventually meets and empties into the Huron River."
The City has provided its comments on the study to the MDEQ and to Pall. The City proposes stronger and faster action, with a new double-lined pipeline to the Huron River to handle more treated water and move the treated water downstream of the main City water intake. The City has also recommended intercepting the plume at several locations closer to the Pall property, and use of existing public roads and rights-of-way for the pipeline to avoid neighborhood disruptions.
Ironically, Pall Life Sciences is one of the world's largest manufacturers of water purification equipment and filters. Parent-company Pall Corporation reports on its Web site that its global revenues are $1.6 billion. Pall Life Sciences manufactures filtration equipment, filters and suppliers.
"Pall knows what needs to be done," Naud said. "The longer Pall avoids its responsibility, the greater the costs its contamination will impose on Ann Arbor."
This lawsuit by the City seeks to hold Pall fully accountable for the cost of the damages it has caused.