Tittabawassee River Watch Editorial          Back to editorial page  

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Saginaw News Editorial 01/18/07

Dioxin hot spots:Do no more harm

Tuesday, January 18, 2007

DIOXIN HOT SPOTS BURIED in the riverbed of the Tittabawassee River in Midland have prompted the state Department of Environmental Quality and Dow Chemical Co. to talk about starting a cleanup effort by the end of this month.

The sample numbers are alarming -- nearly 1,000 times the state's threshold for safe human contact -- but those concerns are tempered by the fact that the contaminants, about 2 percent of which are the most toxic type of dioxin, are buried in sediment up to a foot deep.

Dow officials say the dioxins have been in the riverbed for decades and probably date back to before World War I, when the chemical giant released contaminants into the river near its Midland operations.

While its encouraging that the state and Dow are ready to begin cleanup efforts, dredging the Tittabawassee riverbed carries the risk of dispersing the suspected carcinogens downstream and into the Saginaw River and Saginaw Bay. Test have found dioxin at levels higher then 90 parts per trillion, the state's action level, in the Saginaw River.

As Dow and the Department of Environmental Quality continue to identify the scope of the historic contamination, they must focus on containment and make sure any remediation action such as dredging or redirecting the river's flow doesn't compound the problem.

While some impatience with the state and Dow is understandable, there is no compelling reason to rush. Researchers from the University of Michigan found only slightly higher dioxin exposure levels in the region. The researchers said those elevated levels could be attributed to an older population, since dioxin accumulates as we age.

And unlike the Saginaw River, where shipping navigation is at risk, there is no urgency to dredge in the Tittabawassee River.

Throughout the drawn out process The Saginaw News has counseled caution. We've maintained that the state and Dow must keep the public informed as they move forward on the contamination. The pace may not make everybody happy, but there is nothing wrong with weighing the costs and risks of any cleanup effort. Removing the dioxin doesn't mean it disappears; it means it is transferred to a more stable location. And holding a polluter accountable for the unwise and harmful practices of the past shouldn't rest on actions so punitive that they create economic hardship. The goal is to protect the public from the potential health effects of dioxin exposure.

Any cleanup ought to subscribe to the physician's time-honored oath: First, do no harm.

2007 Saginaw News

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