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December 02, 1988 - Image 5

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1988-12-02

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Page 5 Friday, December 2, 1988 The Michigan Daily





By Corey Dolgon
Gelman Sciences Inc., founded by
U-M graduate Charles Gelman in the
early sixties, is a local Ann Arbor
company that manufactures dialysis
membranes. For many years, Gel-
man used the dangerous carcinogen
1,4, Dioxane in its production pro-
cess and dumped their hazardous
waste refuse in lagoons located be-
hind the plant. In 1986, the city's
health department informed many
people who lived near Gelman that
their individual water wells had been
contaminated and cautioned residents
against drinking, cooking, or
bathing with their water.
Gelman, having discovered a con-
tamination problem on its own
premises, had already begun dis-
cussing procedures for "addressing
the situation." Because the problem
had become public, Gelman could no
longer quietly handle or dismiss it.
The company was forced to deal di-
rectly with the Department of Natu-
ral Resources (DNR) and affected
neighborhood residents.
Corey Dolgon is a U-M Gradu-
ate student and a member, of PIR-
GIM's Toxic stop tour, 1988.

After initial testing of the Gelman
property and neighboring areas, the
DNR listed Gelman Sciences as the
second worst toxic contamination
site in Michigan. Today, Gelman
ranks number eleven.
During a recent stop on PIR-
GIM'S Toxic Stop Tour of Michi-
gan's worst toxic waste sites, we
visited with officials from Gelman
Sciences Inc. Gelman's people gave
us a tour of their plant and the con-
taminated sites, described their posi-
tion on the situation in detail, and
articulated their commitment to
clean up. First, they explained that
the company had never violated any
laws pertaining to hazardous waste
disposal. Previous DNR regulations
permitted them to dump dioxane in a
variety of ways and each time the
department changed disposal poli-
cies, Gelman revised its own proce-
dures to meet the new stipulations.
Officials offered two interesting
analogies to explain what they per-
ceived as a minimal threat was ti,
human health due to the present
contamination. They claimed that
the proportion of dioxane appearing
in neighborhood well water was
comparable to the significance that a
few baseballs would have in Tiger

Stadium. They also compared the
potential health effects of drinking
this water to drinking a shot of
whiskey a day.
Finally, Gelman officials claimed
that they had developed an effective
an efficient method to clean up
dioxane contamination. They pro-
posed a system that would purge
polluted aquifers of such contami-
nation. They wanted to dump the
waste into deep well injections.
They complained that it was the
DNR that consistently stalled clean
up efforts by refusing to accept this
I thanked the officials for their
time and left thinking about Gelman
vice president Jim Marshall's
"personal belief" that dioxane really
wasn't dangerous and about how he
had worked with the materials
"barehanded" for years.
After meeting with the officials,
we walked north about three quarters
of a mile to Ferry Avenue, a quiet,
dead end, suburban street near Gel-
man Sciences in Scio Township. We
spoke to some local residents who
told us their own stories of the con-
tamination problem. The health de-
partment appeared one day to warn
them not to use their water and then
Gelman Sciences had been forced to
arrange for them to shower at a
nearby Holiday Inn. They recalled
the difficulty of adding nightly hotel
visits into their work routines, and
how to this day they still feel vic-
timized, powerless, and afraid.
Thie local residents also countered
Gelman's baseball and booze
metaphors by explaining that com-
paring dioxane to liquor is like
comparing wood to metal: "Yes,
they are both hard, but I want a car
made out of metal and a table made
out of wood... There is a difference
between the two but they are both
hard... They're lying to us." The
residents also informed us that their
well contained 418 parts per billion
(ppb) of dioxane, not just the 5 or
10 ppb that Gelman officials
claimed: I assumed then that Gel-
man's analogy would be not just a
few baseballs in Tiger Stadium but a
few hundred! The problem remains

that if the baseballs were made of
dioxane and not cowhide, the Tigers
would have real trouble finding
someone willing to throw out the
first ball.

the story out to the public. The
Daily only published the propaganda
that Gelman officials gave us during
the tour. They allowed much of the
interview to go: "off the record." The

'Chuck Gelman made his real commitment to
environmental clean up explicit when his company
filed for court action that would : block state-funded
environmental clean ups and delay implementation of
Michigan's new $425 million dollar environmental
bond program."'

Finally, local residents criticized
Gelman's deep well injection plan
because it posed greater threats for
future contamination. If hazardous
materials were placed in deep wells
and those wells ever leaked, the en-
tire lower aquifer could be contami-
nated, and threaten the water supply
of the entire area, affecting hundreds
of thousands of residents. The deep
well injection method is probably
the quickest and cheapest way for
Gelman to clean up, but I still won-
der why they would be willing to
take the risk of further contamina-
tion which would increase their lia-
Residents responded to Gelman's
proposal: "What risk?... No, then
they're out of business; they've lost
everything, they file for bankruptcy,
and they go elsewhere. I mean, let's
be realistic about this. This is a big
gamble... but what do you lose?
Everybody who works there loses
their job. You take your ten percent
of approach to the whole thing....
Take a chance, clear it up, get the
state off your back... make a profit
and disappear in a few years if you
have to." Gelman's real commit-
ment to environmental clean up was
becoming clear.
I initially wanted to write this
piece for two closely related reasons:
first because the Daily's coverage
of the tour's visit to Scio Township
was so poor; and'second because
victims of toxic contamination have
so few resources to get their sides of

paper did not publish any of the in-
terview with local residents who
countered Gelman's claims and ex-
posed misinformation. In fact, the
Daily didn't even mention that PIR-
GIM spoke to local people who had
been affected by Gelman's hazardous
waste disposal. The only thing we
learned from the Daily's article was
that Chuck Gelman's company
supported the Bond proposal." This
kind of careless reporting not only
distorts reality and misinforms the
public, but it intensifies the prob-
lems that contaminated residents
have in communicating their mes-
sage. I was worried that people
might think too kindly about Chuck
Luckily, Chuck Gelman made his
real commitment to environmental
clean up explicit when his company
filed for court action that would :
block state-funded environmental
clean ups and delay implementation
of Michigan's new $425 million
dollar environmental bond program."
(Ann Arbor News 11/18) Gelman
claims this action is an attempt to
make the "DNR more responsive to
the public, fairer to Michigan busi-
ness, and less secretive and arbitrary
in administering Act 307."
In an interview with the Ann Ar-
bor News, Gelman admitted that
much of his problem with the DNR
is a "personal issue...We feel we are

entitled to our day in court." Actu-
ally, the company's actions stem
from confrontations with the DNR
over its controversial clean up plans
and its high ranking on the state's
list of dangerous toxic waste sites.
The DNR is right to hound Gel-
man because its plans for the deep
well injection of hazardous waste
poses greater threats to human health
and the Environment. Gelman's
claim that its own experts rankedihe
company as the 350th worst site in
the state instead of the 11th by us-
ing the DNR's criteria for measure-
ment seems a ludicrous red-herring.
There are almost 1800 toxic waste
sites in Michigan; Gelman's posi-
tion on this honor roll is not
important. The company's real
commitment to solving the problem
in an environmentally sound way is
imperative. Yet, they refuse to
cooperate with the DNR, and remain
quick to spread propaganda but slow
to respond to the real needs of the
local residents.
Finally, in the company's press
release concerning their court battle
on Thursday, Gelman exposes the
real motivation behind their actions:
"Gelman Sciences Seeks Justice-
$450(sic)Million from Environmen-
tal Bond May Be Tied Up. Compar
Chairman Explains Gelman Court
Actions and Advises Michigan
Businesses to Prepare for DNR
Gelman Sciences is tooling up for
a fight, but unlike 80% of the peo-
ple in Michigan who voted for the
environmental bond and the thou-
sands of people around the state who
have been affected by toxic contami-
nation, Gelman is preparing for a
war against environmental clean'up.
I asked a resident who lives near
Gelman if he believed the company
had a heartfelt commitment to the
community. He didn't take long to
respond, "No, the money in town
does, but I personally, no. Jim Mar-
shall is entirely too smooth an
operator to have any compassion for
anything but money."




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