Tittabawassee River Watch Editorial          Back to editorial page  

WB01727_.gif (697 bytes)

Saginaw News Editorial 02/13/05

Awaiting the dioxin diagnosis

Sunday, February 13, 2005

The results of a University of Michigan study into dioxin exposure trickle out to Saginaw Valley participants this week. The study's chief scientist, Dr. David Garabrant, in a My View today, urges participants and the public not to read too much into the individual reports.

That assumes they can decipher the jargon, acronyms, charts and technical terms that dot the four-page letter. Understanding the difference between a resident's TEQ for 29 congeners and his TEQ for 21 congeners, and comparing them to EPA's national exposure percentiles, doesn't equate with harmful exposure.

That potential confusion creates an environment that could push the debate in a counterproductive direction. Residents must remain patient and not let the controversy's cacophony drive their emotions.

Garabrant and his U-M colleagues are not releasing the larger results of blood samples drawn in Midland and Saginaw until they can put those numbers in better perspective.

Individual results are confidential, although undoubtedly some floodplain residents, for a variety of reasons -- including furthering an agenda -- will reveal their individual dioxin levels.

Garabrant says the $15 million independent study, funded by Dow Chemical, remains on schedule for completion in 2006. Until the dioxin team completes its study, Garabrant says releasing aggregate Saginaw and Midland numbers could create the wrong impression. Exposure in the Saginaw Valley may or may not exceed those in Jackson and Calhoun counties.

In short, knowing a person's blood-dioxin levels is only helpful in comparison to exposure elsewhere. Dioxins are present at some level in all of us.

Environmentalists, led by the Lone Tree Council, have criticized the state for not moving fast enough in pressuring Dow to cleanup its dioxins. Dow and the state agreed recently to start remediation -- a fancy term for dealing with dioxin hot spots -- in residential areas. It is at least partly true the Lone Tree Council's pressure has forced some of the progress so far.

Yet the dioxin issue is too complex and far too important to the region's health and economy to let emotions dictate the debate. The U-M study is plodding forward; its goal is to determine exposure levels in Midland and Saginaw counties, and relate them to exposure levels elsewhere. Garabrant and U-M aren't addressing questions about dioxin's effect on human health.

The release of blood-dioxin levels to individuals this week is akin to a doctor telling a patient she may have cancer or another disease. Until the tests are complete, and the diagnosis is confirmed, the patient is understandably anxious.

Until the facts are all in, it won't do us good to jump to emotional conclusions.

© 2005 Saginaw News

Back to editorial page