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David Linhardt, 07/17/05, Saginaw News Guest Columnist opinion to SN column 07/10/05

Column downplayed the dangers of dioxin

Sunday, July 17, 2005 DAVID L. LINHARDT Saginaw News GUEST COLUMNIST

While The Saginaw News is commended for providing a forum for all viewpoints, Dr. Samuel Shaheen's July 10 guest column contained a number of incorrect and biased opinions. I would like to comment on several, but not all of them. All but one quote are from his article.

1. "... I have not seen an illness that stemmed from dioxin poisoning."

The World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Michigan Department of Community Health have concluded that TCDD is a known human carcinogen. This conclusion is supported by human health studies conducted by Dow Chemical Co.

In 1998, as required by federal law, Dow informed the Environmental Protection Agency that stomach cancer and prostate cancer were significantly elevated in its Midland dioxin-exposed workers and that the elevations were statistically significant.

When Shaheen diagnosed a patient with cancer, it is doubtful if he had the time to conduct an epidemiology study to determine the cause of the cancer. Under these circumstances, he might have missed one or two dioxin-related cancers.

2. "... Dow Chemical Co. scientists ... the most knowledgeable in the world on how to control the dioxin molecule."

Based on the levels of dioxins being found in Midland and in the Tittabawassee River, the company's control technology was developed after the contamination had already occurred.

3. "'Decades of Dioxin' by Dr. Warren Crummett, a Dow scientist ... Much of my knowledge came from his book."

Before his retirement, Crummett was a research manager in Dow's analytical laboratory. His subordinates actually developed and advanced the company's dioxin analytical procedures. His book focuses a large number of pages on Dow's interaction with regulatory agencies. Crummett is not an expert (nor has he claimed to be) on the toxicological effects of dioxin exposure to test animals and humans.

An excellent book with a different perspective on dioxin contamination is "Elements of Risk," by Cathy Trost.

4. "How many government functions can you name that are more efficient than those run by private enterprise?"

One comes to mind -- in the case of the Love Canal, the EPA was slightly more effective than Hooker Chemical in solving various chemical contamination issues.

5. "I can remember several years ago when the state mandated that Dow incinerate certain toxic chemicals. Did this contribute to the dioxin problem?"

Yes -- if the incineration was prior to 1968 to 1972 when, first, the company replaced a poorly designed and poorly operated chemical tar burner constructed in 1957 and, second, installed additional air pollution control equipment on an incinerator constructed in 1958.

At the dedication ceremony of the older 1957/1958 units, W.H. Schuette, Midland plant general manager spoke of his company's vision: "Dow management has adopted as its philosophy that industry is, and must be, responsible for its own waste problems; should, and must handle them in a such a fashion that they do not become in any way a burden upon the community nor upon the government; should, and must handle the air and water used in solving these waste problems in such a fashion that they are returned to public use ... in as reasonably good condition as possible and compatible with the public health and welfare."

Dow had significant trouble with its vision. In 1962, the company admitted that its waste water treatment plant was operating at 90 percent efficiency and that the remaining 10 percent of its chemical wastes were being discharged to the river.

Sometime after Schuette's dedication of the tar burner, the unit became a "significant contributor to local air pollution." Rather than invest money for a new tar burner, the company began to burn chemical wastes in its powerhouses in 1960 and may have continued to do so until the 1970s.

After a great deal of fanfare, the company began to construct a replacement unit for the 1957 unit. However, the company delayed startup of the new tar burner in 1968 due to "unsettled labor conditions" in the local construction industry. The old air-polluting tar burner continued to operate as the company sent a "message" to various labor unions -- higher construction costs are more important than reduced air pollution.

6. Shaheen's article mixes large volumes of industrial dioxins with lesser amounts of dioxins from various sources -- runoff from slaughterhouses, septic tanks, forest fires, farming (including manure) and cousin Joe's backyard barbecuing -- to spread responsibility for the extremely high levels of dioxins in the river.

He goes on to say, "It does not mean a good corporate citizen should bear the brunt of the total cleanup."

If a company's chemical waste incinerators have contaminated a nearby community with high levels of dioxins and a company's chemical waste ponds have contaminated the adjacent river with even higher levels of dioxins, I would think that a "good corporate citizen" would be more than willing to acknowledge responsibility and bear the cost of the cleanup.

If Dow would support the cost of removal of dioxins originating from its chemical manufacturing operations, I'm relatively certain that the riverside residents would be willing to endure dioxin levels associated with manure discharges to the river.

7. "The only serious consequence of dioxin that I could find in the literature is chloracne."

I would refer Shaheen to the numerous mortality studies that Dow has posted on its Web site as evidence of the harmful effects of dioxin exposure. The studies confirm several linkages to specific cancers. I would be more than pleased to send Shaheen a summary of the Dow studies and a study which clearly show a significant elevation in 16 specific cancers.

Shaheen goes into some length that he has no significant investment in Dow, but fails to mention the adverse economic impact that a cleanup of the Tittabawassee River will have on his substantial riverside investments.

Even the approval of a multi-million dollar cleanup of the river will leave little doubt that dioxin exposure is a risk to human health -- a confirmation that Shaheen would prefer to avoid. Until the cleanup is completed and the river is tested to confirm a low level of contamination, Shaheen's riverfront investments might better be viewed as a "tax loss."

Shaheen has much to lose from any remediation effort while riverside residents have much to gain. v

David L. Linhardt is a retiree of Dow Chemical Co. with 28 years of service, including a number of years at the company's Midland plant. He is the publisher of DioxinSpin.com, a Web site devoted to the dioxin issue. He lives in Cary, N.C.

2005 Saginaw News

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