TCE Plume

Why we care?

TCE is a known carcinogen in humans and experimental animals. TCE (trichloroethlylene) is a degreasing solvent that was dumped in shallow sandy pits in Mancelona from 1947-1967. TCE has contaminated 13 trillion gallons of groundwater.

The TCE Plume, discovered in 1999, is the largest TCE plume in Michigan and one of the largest groundwater contaminations in the United States.

All of the residences in these areas with contaminated well water have been connected to the Mancelona Area Water and Sewer Authority (MAWSA), which draws water from wells located east of Mancelona and from the Cedar River Well Field near Schuss Mountain.


TCE groundwater plume in 2014 from the former site of Wickes Manufacturing spreading across Antrim County.

What is at risk?

There are four ways TCE can harm people:

  1. by drinking contaminated water
  2. ingesting food prepared with contaminated water
  3. breathing contaminated air
  4. through skin contact with contaminated water or air

Contaminated Drinking Water

TCE concentrations above 5 ppb in drinking water are unsafe, according to the State of Michigan.

TCE has contaminated more than 1400 drinking water wells from the Village of Mancelona to the Shanty Creek Resort. The plume has percolated 450 feet into the groundwater and extends more than 6.5 miles long and 1.5 miles wide. It is traveling at a rate of 350–480 feet per year.

Is the plume a threat to water in the Torch Lake watershed?

The plume is not expected to have an impact on the Torch Lake Watershed or contaminate our drinking water wells. TCE has a greater affinity for air than water. So, TCE in the water quickly evaporates into the air where it is broken down by sunlight.

Although the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, (MDEQ), renamed EGLE, Environment, Great Lakes & Energy, reports that TCE is currently seeping into the Cedar River, it does not remain in the water very long. The concentration of TCE in groundwater near the Cedar River is 25-50 ppb, which is below the surface water quality standard of 200 ppb. Tests 100 yards downstream from where TCE enters the Cedar River indicate that TCE is not detectable (less than 1 ppb). Recent tests of groundwater from wells on the north side of the Cedar River do not contain detectable levels of TCE.

What is happening?

In 2001, local citizens formed a network of community organizations called Antrim County United through Ecology (ACUTE). ACUTE is a group that facilitates discussion of the TCE Plume and related projects to address this contamination.

The State of Michigan made the decision not to clean up the TCE plume, because it would have been too expensive. The cost for cleaning up the estimated 13 trillion gallons of contaminated water would have cost an estimated $650B.

Instead, the State of Michigan agreed to investigate the plume, test wells and provide alternative clean drinking water for 1400 residents in the Mancelona, Schuss Mountain and Cedar River Village areas.

Since 2001, the State of Michigan has invested$18 million on monitoring the TCE plume, and installing a water system for the Village of Mancelona.

In May 2015, the Antrim County Board of Commissioners voted (6-3) to provide $250,000 in matching funds to connect homes in Schuss Mountain Village to the Mancelona Water System

The County agreed to a one time only payment to help pay for the first of two construction projects to upgrade the MAWSA water system. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) agreed to pay an additional $750.000.

Project #1– The first construction project includes connecting Schuss Village to MAWSA and installing a storage tank to allow for slow collection and storage of water from deep wells in the Cedar River Well Field.

By the end of 2018, the state-funded construction of the new 300,000 gallon MAWSA storage tank on Shanty Creek Road has been completed.

Project #2– The 2nd project will connect homes near Del Mason Road to MAWSA, which is estimated to cost $1 million, which will be paid by additional funds from the MDEQ.

Project #3– Future projects will address increasing water volume capacity of the MAWSA system and develop alternative water sources for the Shanty Creek. Funding for these future projects will begin around 2022.

In late 2018, the MDEQ (or EGLE) reported the TCE Plume is turning from its northwestern direction to a westerly path towards 60 homes including Pine Brook condominiums but is turning away from the The Cedar River Well Field located north of the old plume path. These wells provide water to hundreds of homes east of Shanty Creek Road with contaminated water wells.

Project #4– Pine Brook Condominiums will be supplied with new wells with a 7, 500 ft water line connection to the condominiums. This million dollar project is under construction and is funded by the Clean Michigan Initiative.

EGLE continues to track the plume by testing private  wells located west of Shanty Creek Road on a regular basis. A private well located southeast of Deskin Road and Shanty Creek Road tested positive of TCE in May 2018

You Care

We know you want to enjoy the lake for many years (and generations) to come. So, we’ve put together a list of simple steps you can take to reduce the nutrients, sediments and toxins flowing into the lake and its streams.

What can you do to show you care?

Keep yourself informed. Torch Conservation Center will continue to update information as it comes available.


Interactive Plume Map

Health Department of Northwest Michigan-TCE information

For additional information watch Antrim County’s 9 minute video produced by ACUTE:

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