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07/25/07  DEQ Director responds to Saginaw News editorial

I was disappointed to read The Saginaw News editorial that criticized the progress being made by the Department of Environmental Quality to move the dioxin cleanup in the Midland and Saginaw areas forward. ("Finally, EPA is flexing muscle," July 5)

Much of the work done over the past one to two years has focused on gathering an immense amount of data, and while this work may not be noticeable to the public on a daily basis, it is absolutely vital in helping our agency and Dow Chemical Co. understand the scope of the contamination problem and how we can best address it.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently did issue removal orders to Dow, effectively telling the company that it needs to accelerate plans to remove some of the most highly contaminated areas in the Tittabawassee River. What was missed in the editorial, however, was that this would not have been possible without the work already completed by the state.

In fact, the work that began this month to remove a section of that contaminated sediment from the river already was scheduled to begin prior to EPA's orders.

As the editorial suggests, Dow did submit a cleanup plan Dec. 1, 2005, that was intended to provide the next steps in the cleanup process. Despite the state DEQ providing Dow with substantial detailed guidance on exactly what needed to be addressed, its proposal was found to be so deficient by both the Department of Environmental Quality and EPA that we simply had to request an entirely new cleanup plan. Dow's plans lacked detail in determining the size and scope of the contaminated area, the necessary follow-up investigations and did not even address human health risk assessment studies. Furthermore, the company's plan provided a schedule that would not have remediation begin until 2017 even under the best case scenario. Clearly, this was unacceptable to both the DEQ and EPA, and the major revisions that would be required were clearly detailed in the DEQ's 43 pages of comments sent back to Dow.

Again, it was not a simple "no" as the editorial stated.

Rather than wait for a new work plan and miss the 2006 sampling season, the DEQ required Dow to submit sampling plans for the Upper Tittabawassee and the city of Midland. A process was approved quickly and generated 3,800 samples that were analyzed for dioxins and furans within the floodplain and river sediments and 400 samples from the city of Midland. This is the process that ultimately led to the cleanup actions that began this month, and the investigation of the next 11 miles of the Tittabawassee River and floodplain will continue this summer.

The DEQ and Dow have co-hosted quarterly community meetings where all of this information has been presented to the public, and we would welcome your assistance in sharing this information with those who cannot attend. The DEQ intends to continue our work with the local community, Dow and the EPA as we make meaningful progress on this complex issue. v

Steven E. Chester

Director, Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.

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