Tittabawassee River Watch Editorial          Back to editorial page  

WB01727_.gif (697 bytes)

MIchelle Hurd Riddick, 08/20/06, Guest Columnist, Saginaw News

August 20, 2006
Michelle Hurd Riddick
The question to be answered by the University of Michigan dioxin exposure investigation was simple. Is soil a pathway for dioxin to get into blood?  Their answer is yes. Preliminary results reveal that "people had a 28% higher median level of dioxin in their blood" by living in the Tittabawassee River floodplain.
Linda Birnbaum, an EPA dioxin expert and member of the study's science advisory board, warned last year that existing background levels of dioxin in people put them at risk for a multitude of health effects: diabetes and cancer, as well as thyroid, immune, reproductive and neurobehavioral problems.  Being on the high end of even background levels is a risk.
Because dioxin is persistent and accumulates in the body it is no surprise that age is a factor as identified in the U-M report. However, children,developing babies and pregnant women remain dioxin's most vulnerable populations--a population not studied by the U-M team and therefore a huge limitation of the study that must be recognized. Living on the dioxin contaminated soil in the floodplain is not a healthy start for Saginaw County's children.  Pollution in our bodies builds up over a lifetime and exposures in early life warrant concern.  We accumulate dioxin as we age. Kids on the floodplain likely have a jump on the rest of the population in accumulating their lifetime body burden of dioxin.  No degree of increase in body burdens of dioxins in our children that is preventable should be accepted.
It's an important finding that the U-M study supports the findings of the state's exposure investigation conducted last year.  We now have two studies demonstrating people are taking up dioxin just by living in the floodplain.
The U-M study also supports the states position that fish in our rivers and bay are highly contaminated and a major exposure pathway. People engaged in recreational activities in our local rivers and bay "have higher levels of dioxin in their blood" than those not engaged in these activities, the study says.
Concerned for their property values, a handful of homeowners in the floodplain view the 28 % increase in median dioxin levels as minor and think the state should just back off.  I don't diminish the importance of property values, but Dow's contamination extends far beyond any one individual property and the study is but one of thousands of studies to guide public policy. Dow's dioxin contamination goes to the core of our collective and individual quality of life. This contamination cannot be viewed through a single lens or a single study.
The contamination is pervasive. When we cannot safely use our vast water/recreational resources, it's a problem. When children cannot utilize public parks, when fisherman cannot safely feed their catch to their families, when a person walks away from the purchase of a home on the river because of dioxin levels in the yard, it's a problem. Our economic losses are huge because of Dow's contamination.
The U-M study says people are taking up dioxin in the floodplain in varying degrees depending on their activity.  Dr. Garabrant stated more than once these initial findings were preliminary and future data was needed to give a clear picture. Suggestions that this study is definitive are premature.
Science is critical to setting public policy but it is always subject to scientific filibuster rooted in different agendas.  Like many others, I await the final analysis and peer review of the u-M study, recognizing it is only one piece of a larger puzzle.  Meanwhile, we have years of solid science to begin cleaning up our rivers and protect human health.*

Back to editorial page