Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Mancelona's Poisoned Groundwater

Groundwater contaimination from the dumping of trichloroethylene (TCE) from plating operations and auto parts manufacturing in the village of Mancelona now extends six miles beyond the village to the Schuss Mountain/Shanty Creek Resort and the Cedar River. The state of Michigan is about to spend $2,000,000 to extend the Mancelona’s municipal water system to connect additional residences to the system as part of an effort to alleviate health concerns over area groundwater wells.

From 1947 to 1967 Mount Clemens Industries, Inc., used TCE in vapor degreasers while manufacturing auto parts. After its use the TCE was dumped onto the ground near its manufacturing plant, now the site of the Dura Automotive plant on US 131 in Mancelona. The groundwater contamination plume begins at the Dura plant and extends northwest. Breathing small amounts of TCE may cause lung irritation, and difficulty concentrating. Drinking water that contains TCE over a period of time can lead to liver and kidney problems and may also cause cancer.

Concentrations of TCE contamination in Mancelona range from less than 1 ppb to several hundred ppb. The State of Michigan’s criteria for safe drinking water is 5 ppb or less. This contamination is also believed to have originated from the disposal of spent metal degreasing solvent in the 1950’s associated with Wickes Manufacturing, a firm that no longer exists. In the past 45 to 50 years, the waste TCE disposed of in the site’s permitted lagoons migrated through the groundwater. This site is referred to by the Michigan DEQ as the Wickes Manufacturing TCE Plume Site.

The TCE plume is more than six miles long and one mile wide at its leading edge, the largest in Michigan. The State estimates that the plume has contaminated ten to twenty trillion gallons of groundwater, encompassing Schuss Mountain and a 1.5 mile wide stretch of the Cedar River. As this groundwater contamination plume continues to spread into the Cedar River, it threatens the Lower Chain of Lakes and the municipal water well field at Cedar River that supplies drinking water to an entire region of people whose wells have already been impacted by the plume and the original plume at Tar Lake, a Superfund site in Mancelona.

The State previously provided $9.7 million to install the existing municipal water system to service the area west of Mancelona and to investigate the extent of contamination. Recent investigations have shown groundwater contamination outside of the existing water service area to the northwest and to the east.

The local group Antrim Coalition United Through Ecology (ACUTE) has been actively involved in the State's investigation of the trichloroethylene contamination and discussions of proposed remedies, and has been holding monthly citizen meetings to discuss and educate Mancelona residents.

The Northwest Michigan Community Health Agency issued a "Well-First Policy" because of the findings from MDEQ test wells drilled in 2004 on the outer edge of the plume. These findings revealed TCE groundwater contamination from 40 to 200 feet below the water table in one location and “deeper than expected” contamination in another. In order to assure a safe supply of drinking water for new construction, the policy requires that a drinking water well must be drilled and tested for the presence of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC), specifically TCE, prior to the issuance of a building permit. If the test results do not show contaminants exceeding any EPA Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL), building permits will be issued. If the test results show VOC exceeding EPA MCL standards, the well must be abandoned and no building permits will be issued until an approved water source is available.

Funding for this current expansion project comes from the Clean Michigan Initiative bond fund passed by voters in 1998. Additional funds will be required to continue investigating the extent of the contamination and potentially extend the public water supply further, but very little Clean Michigan Initiative funding remains and could limit future actions by the State to assist Mancelona.

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