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Mario M. Mangino, EPA, 05/31/08, Letter to the editor, Saginaw News

My View: Assumptions without research lead to misinformation

by Mario M. Mangino

Saturday May 31, 2008, 10:00 PM Saginaw News

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency shares the view recently expressed in these pages by Bob Van Deventer of the Saginaw County Chamber of Commerce that protecting the health and safety of residents in the Saginaw Valley environment is a top priority.

However, Van Deventer's presentation of the issues concerning dioxin contamination in the Tittabawassee River system leaves out several important details.

Van Deventer claims that "not one individual has ever been ill because of the effects of furans/dioxins" in the river. This is a striking oversimplification. To EPA's knowledge, no specific study has ever been conducted that supports this statement.

Certainly, in the case of dioxin, delaying action until people actually suffer clinical health effects would be irresponsible.

Considerable evidence shows that adverse health effects are possible and may begin to occur when individuals are exposed at levels not much higher than those expected for the general population. Also, available data show elevated dioxin levels in soils near many private homes as well as in local game and fish in the Saginaw Valley.

Another Van Deventer claim, that "wildlife along the Tittabawassee River is flourishing," has little factual basis. The EPA has never received a work plan for an ecological risk assessment by Dow or Michigan State University researchers that meets the agency's baseline requirements. Furthermore, the MSU wildlife studies to date have not undergone peer review.

Finally, in discussing the University of Michigan's preliminary results from its dioxin exposure study, Van Deventer states that it "clearly showed very little difference in dioxin blood levels" between Tittabawassee River floodplain residents and a test group not living in the area. Again, the U-M study has yet to be fully peer-reviewed.

To conclude anything definitive at this early date would seem to be an attempt to limit further discussion. A final report is not expected until late this year at the earliest.

The studies under way clearly demand the full scrutiny of the scientific and academic communities. The agencies also fully support the concept of new, additional studies of human and ecological health in the area by qualified researchers. To do anything less is to short-change the residents and the health of the Saginaw Valley.

Mario M. Mangino is a toxicologist with the U.S. Environmental Agency's Region 5 in Chicago.

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