Friday, September 06, 2013

Out Of Sight Out Of Mind: Carcinogenic Chemical Spreads Beneath Michigan Town

Out Of Sight Out Of Mind: Carcinogenic Chemical Spreads Beneath Michigan Town

No, this is not the plot for a new horror film. This horror is a reality. A carcinogenic cloud spreading its toxic tentacles towards a town and its water supply. Put there by other humans seeking profit to poison this planet. Now, years later those people gone, those buildings demolished, yet the memory of what they did remains. This is what first frightened me as a young child so many years ago. This is what I read Silent Spring for and what awakened me at such a young age to a world I could not understand. A world where such human horrors were commonplace and accepted.

I am posting this because it must be known. As we now once again stand on the precipice of what could become a world war in the Middle East, we ignore the chemical threats here in the US. I concede that yes, any chemical attack on innocents is an atrocious crime that should see accountability. So why are those who suffer the relentless poisoning of chemical companies for profit not thought about? Our world is under chemical bombardment 24 hours a day every day. We breathe it, we eat it, we wash in it. It is in our wombs affecting our unborn children! And yet, governments including the US government sit and pontificate as if they hold some moral high ground when looking to bomb other countries for what they allow to slowly happen to their own citizens daily. However, as we see in this case it would appear that citizens without great wealth are treated differently than others.

I surely thought that by the time I reached this age the human race would have learned its lesson. That we would have seen the true horror we unleashed and reign it in. That we would listen to the voices of reason and understand that life and the water that sustains it is more important than fleeting gold. How many more aquifers and water supplies in this country have been contaminated by the relentless pursuit of profit over life with time being our enemy?


Excerpt from article:

"When state and federal environmental officials visited the tucked-away town of Mancelona, Mich., 15 years ago, their presence surprised local residents. “My heart and most of my life has been spent here in Antrim County,” said Gary Knapp, a long-time resident. “And I knew nothing of its environmental problems.” While removing metal contamination from local groundwater, officials had stumbled upon one of the nation’s largest plumes of an industrial solvent called trichloroethylene, or TCE. Drinking-water wells tap into this aquifer, so the state asked the town’s help in preventing the chemical from flowing out of people’s taps. “People were helpless, frustrated and angry,” said Knapp, who was recruited by the state to start a regional water authority. Fifteen years later, the underground plume of the carcinogenic chemical is now six miles long and continues to grow. Over the past decade, new wells have been built and millions of dollars have been spent to ensure the 1,390 residents of Mancelona – known for its deer-hunting contests and bass festivals – aren’t drinking toxic water. But the TCE swirling beneath this remote, low-income town continues to vex state officials and residents as it creeps toward new wells that Knapp and others dug to replace tainted ones. The plume is another industrial scar in Michigan – one that is seemingly not going away. “There’s no silver bullet to take care of this thing,” said Scott Kendzierski, director of environmental health services at the Health Department of Northwest Michigan. “It’s just a monster.” Used in large volumes by an array of industries, TCE is one of the most widespread contaminants in U.S. water supplies. Its use has declined substantially over the past 15 years but widespread contamination remains." ~~~~~~~~~~

A small town's industrial legacy

Though hours away from where the Rust Belt tightens across southern Michigan, Mancelona historically has had more in common with the economies of Flint, Detroit, Lansing and Saginaw than its tourism-dependent neighboring towns in the northwestern Lower Peninsula. For decades, three factories employed most of Mancelona. One by one they closed, the most recent in 2009, leaving unemployment and economic stagnation behind. But one left something more toxic.

From about 1947 to 1967, Mt. Clemens Metal Products Company used the solvent TCE as a degreaser during the manufacture of car parts. Workers dumped it near the building when they were done with it, according to officials with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. The chemical slowly seeped into the porous, sandy soil, contaminating the aquifer.

The plume – now polluting 13 trillion gallons of groundwater – is advancing northwest at a rate of about 300 feet per year. It has reached the Cedar River, which flows to a chain of lakes that wash into Lake Michigan.

In Mancelona’s groundwater, TCE concentrations as high as several hundred parts per billion have been detected in the center of the plume. The federal drinking water standard for the chemical is 5 parts per billion.

Used in large volumes by an array of industries, TCE is one of the most widespread contaminants in U.S. water supplies.

In addition to polluting water, TCE can be inhaled as a vapor in buildings.

Its use has declined substantially over the past 15 years, said James Bruckner, a University of Georgia professor who specializes in TCE research. But widespread contamination remains. Michigan alone has about 300 TCE-contaminated sites, and about 60 percent of the nation’s Superfund sites contain the chemical. Many large, miles-long TCE plumes remain in aquifers, particularly near military bases and their contractors. The Mancelona plume is the largest known one in the Great Lakes region and one of the largest in the country, said Janice Adams, a senior geologist with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.

There is no longer any sign of the manufacturing plant responsible for dumping the chemical. The old Mt. Clemens Metal building has been torn down – leaving an empty lot scattered with nappy weeds, broken rebar and torn plastic fencing. The toxic aquifer is an “orphan site”, Adams said, because the company went bankrupt before the water contamination was discovered.


“This will be left for our children”

There are no current plans to clean up the plume.

In 2008, the Michigan DEQ came up with three options to tackle the problem: the first two would have extracted the water, cleaned it and pumped it back underground. But pumping the water out would take decades and cost up to $34 million, too much for the state, Adams said. “If this existed in a large metro area, like Detroit or Lansing or Grand Rapids, it would have gotten more attention a long time ago. It’s a small community that’s been neglected.” –Gary Street, Freshwater Future The state instead chose to focus on monitoring the plume and replacing the tainted water. The state has spent $17.8 million to expand the countywide water system.

“It’s the magnitude of the problem. If you look at how much we’d have to pump out to keep up, it’s mind-boggling,” DeYoung said. “They ran the numbers years ago and it’s just not feasible right now.”

TCE contamination has now reached Cedar River which drains into the Lake Michigan watershed which serves the drinking water needs of millions of people.

Health Hazards Of TCE

Have we forgotten?

If the true price of progress is to sacrifice all that makes our Earth thrive is it worth it?

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