MANCELONA — Industrial boom caused more than economic bust.
Industry left plumes of contaminated water, too.
One, Tar Lake, now is considered cleaned. Iron manufacturers south of downtown dumped waste in the pond for around 60 years and the EPA removed the waste in 1999.
The other, the Wickes TCE Plume, is not. It contains more than 10 trillion gallons of water contaminated with degreasing agent Trichloroethylene, which can cause liver damage, developmental and neurological defects and cancer when ingested.
It started in the mid-1940s when Mt Clements Metal Products used TCE for two decades. Contamination wasn’t discovered until the early 1980s when Wickes Manufacturing owned the parcel.
Bob Wagner, head of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality’s remediation department, worked for the state Department of Natural Resources at the time. He said TCE was only detected at the factory site at levels below the EPA drinking water standards of five parts per billion, so the department left it alone.
He realized the scope of the contamination almost 20 years later when Dura owned the parcel. They set up wells in the village of Mancelona to test for TCE contamination in 1999 and found it at levels as high as 200 ppb, 40 times what's allowed.
“We discovered that a couple of community water supplies were affected with TCE," Wagner said. "We had this significant groundwater problem present and on the move.”
That leaves a decades-long gap between the time TCE was used and when it was detected in Mancelona wells. Wagner agreed when asked whether some residents unknowingly drank contaminated water.
Jim MacQuarrie, director of the Mancelona Area Water and Sewer Authority, first heard of the TCE when he worked at Shanty Creek Resorts and an engineer warned it was headed toward the resort’s wells.
“I’m sure it’s probably made some people sick,” MacQuarrie said. “All those wells in between (the old plant and the resort) obviously had some pretty heavy doses for years.”