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Midland Daily News Editorial, 08/20/06

Our View: Dioxin study an important step
Midland Daily News

Midlanders now know that living in areas contaminated with dioxin likely will cause them to have higher levels of the toxin in their blood.

    That was one of the findings of a two-year study of dioxin exposure in the Midland and Saginaw areas and along the Tittabawassee River floodplain.

    The study also showed that those who eat food contaminated with dioxin, such as fish, will have higher levels of dioxin, reinforcing that food intake is a significant factor in exposure. And the older a person is, the more dioxin he or she will have as it accumulates over the person's lifetime.

    The biggest question now is whether the amount of dioxin in the blood of residents living in contaminated areas such as Midland and the Tittabawassee floodplain is significant enough to warrant concern. The study showed that those living in the floodplain had a median dioxin level of 32 parts per trillion. That's 28 percent above the 25 ppt found in the Jackson/Calhoun counties control group. In Midland, people living away from the expected contamination had a median of 28 ppt. But those living north and northeast of the Michigan Operations Dow Chemical Co. plant had median levels of 24 ppt, slightly below the control group.

    Predictably, reaction to the study results was mixed. Some thought they confirmed the need to cleanup dioxin contamination in and around Midland and Saginaw counties. Others believed the increased amount of dioxin in blood levels was so small there is no need for concern or local cleanup.

    Who's right? In terms of dioxin in soils, we believe the study shows very clearly that significant levels of contamination are needed before there is an impact on the amount found in blood levels. The study showed an increase of 0.7 percent for every 1,000 ppt in contamination. Soils in most of Midland have much less than 1,000 ppt contamination, meaning that the dioxin contamination here has had little impact. But in the floodplain, where contamination levels have been as high as 24,000 ppt, the soil impact becomes more significant.

    Clearly, there still are many questions to be answered. But the dioxin exposure study was an important step toward providing the type of scientific examination of the contamination that Midlanders have long sought. The study also gives state and federal regulatory agencies some important information as they decide how to deal with dioxin contamination in mid-Michigan.

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