Sunday, September 29, 2013

Chemistry in the News: The Carcinogenic Attack on Mancelona Michigan

The small town of Mancelona, Michigan is currently experiences the effects of one of the country's largest toxic plumes of a solvent that was carelessly discarded by Mt. Clemens Metal Products Company in the late 1940s- late1960s. This solvent, trichloroethylene, was first found in local water supply when state officials were removing metal contamination in the city fifteen years ago. Very little has been done to combat this problem since. Currently, the underground plume of trichloroethylene (TCE) plume is six miles long and continues to grow at the alarming rate of around 300 feet northwest per year. TCE was confirmed to be a carcinogen in 2011 by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and has been linked to cancers of the liver and kidney as well as non-Hodgkins lymphoma. While the use of the solvent has declined drastically over the years, not much is being done to address the ever-growing plume. It has been ensured that all citizens of Mancelona and other affected areas have access to clean water but many people agree that this is not enough because it is not actually fixing the problem. If the TCE plume continues to grow at this rate, the new wells drilled to replace the old contaminated ones will soon face the same fate. With purification plans costing up to $34 million, which is far more than the state is able to pay, attempts to stop the plume and correct the damage done are at a standstill and 13 trillion gallons of water remain contaminated. TCE is not only dangerous if ingested through water, but its vapor is also extremely dangerous and can effectively infiltrate basements via the soil. People living above the plume are also at a risk of exposure to the vapor during showers. It appears that the TCE problem of Mancelona, Michigan is finally getting attention due to its rapid spread toward upscale resorts and retirement communities. Hopefully people will begin to do what they can to help and generate funds to use purification procedures developed by scientists that will begin to degrade this toxic plume. Gigantic problems like these that affect lives presently and undoubtedly have future ramifications are precisely the reason that scientific research, particularly chemical and organic chemical research much continue.



  1. Great article, This is a serious issue I had never heard about. I read the article, hoping that I would find that the company faced some repercussions for its actions, but unfortunately the company went bankrupt before the contamination was discovered. This left the state of michigan with a huge, expensive, public health issue that it largely can`t afford to deal with. Hopefully, in the future, manufacturing companies will be more cautious with the chemicals they use and how they are disposed of.

  2. really interesting and a great article. It is really sad that large companies, not just this one, discard their chemicals in extremely inappropriate and hazardous ways: burying them, burning them, dumping them into the ocean. What is really sad is although the people are getting clean drinking water, they are still exposed to TCE through vapors and in the shower. It's almost like they can't escape it unless they pack up and move their lives somewhere far away (who knows how far since the plume is growing). I'm curious how they can stop the plume from growing or what else they are doing for these people, especially the ones who develop cancer. Do they have to pay their medical bills on their own? I hope someone from that company is held responsible for the damage