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For Release Contact: James Clift, Dave Dempsey
Tuesday, August 8, 2000 517-487-9539

A SPREADING STAIN:
MICHIGAN'S MULTIPLYING GROUNDWATER DEAD ZONES

A 1995 change in state law has created more than 30 potential contaminated groundwater "dead zones" that prevent innocent landowners from using groundwater supplies. The number will multiply unless the Legislature sets standards, the Michigan Environmental Council said. MEC raised the issue in a new report, A Spreading Stain, released today.

"The Legislature shifted the burden of pollution from those who caused it to those who suffer its consequences," said MEC Policy Director James Clift. "The creation of dead zones threatens to get out of hand. Unless the law is changed to limit these dead zones, vast areas of contaminated groundwater may simply be declared off-limits. That threatens public health as well as private property rights."

The 1995 law abolished the state's historic policy of requiring polluters to clean up chemically contaminated groundwater. Instead, communities, often at the request of the polluters, are now authorized by state law to pass ordinances writing off contaminated groundwater supplies, saving polluters millions of dollars in cleanup costs. In passing such ordinances, communities are banning innocent landowners from using their own water wells and forbidding them from drilling new wells into contaminated aquifers. Most disturbing, MEC said, are ordinances that would prevent landowners from using the groundwater even when it is the sole source of drinking water without requiring compensation.

"By condemning these groundwater supplies, the state is essentially guilty of letting arsonists set fire to a community and then sending the firefighters home while property owners are engulfed in flames," said Kathy Aterno of Clean Water Action.

MEC recommended the Legislature change the "dead zones" policy so that it only applies only to small, specific areas adjacent to contamination sources, rather than across whole townships or counties. MEC also recommended that dead zones be granted only to historically contaminated areas, not areas that have been polluted since 1995. MEC also recommends that polluters getting a break through the policy pay property owners for replacement drinking water and pay the state treasury damages for the lost value of the contaminated aquifer.

A list of the communities that have enacted, or are considering enacting ordinances is attached. Copies of the report can be obtained by contacting MEC, or on line at http://www.mecprotects.org/zone.pdf.


APPENDIX

COMMUNITY ORDINANCES LIMITING USE OF CONTAMINATED GROUNDWATER

E=in effect
P=proposed

Cities/Townships/Villages Status

Grand Haven P

Rochester P

Flint P

Muskegon E

Bay City E

Battle Creek E

Buchanan E

L'Anse P

Charlevoix E

Mt. Pleasant P

Roseville E

Roscommon P

Traverse City E

Hamtramck E

St. Joseph E

Grand Rapids P

Kingsford P

Bellaire E

Iron Mountain E

Chatham (Alger County) E

Central Lake Township (Antrim County) P

Maple Ridge Township (Delta County) E

Bedford Township (Calhoun County) E

Sparta Township (Kent County) P

Plainfield Township (Kent County) P

Charlevoix Township (Charlevoix County) P

Counties Status

Cass/Van Buren Counties P

Muskegon County P

Berrien County P

Genesee County E

Allegan County P

Kalamazoo County E


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