Tittabawassee River Watch EditorialBack to editorial page
Samuel Shaheen, 07/10/05. Note: the following is presented as fair and balanced reporting. The author is extremely biased and uninformed, most of the quotes are taken directly from Dow and it's supporters. The statements about the source of the contamination are completely out of touch with reality. Real physicians and scientists outside the local Dow sphere of influence have a totally different view.
Sunday, July 10, 2005
SAMUEL H. SHAHEEN GUEST COLUMNIST Saginaw News
I feel compelled to answer several letters to the editor and remarks by some reporters.
My knowledge in the dioxin issues is of recent vintage, but it was surprising to me that in more than 50 years of medical practice I have not seen an illness that stemmed from dioxin poisoning.
Since college chemistry days and biochemistry in medical school, I feel that I can read a scientific journal or article with more than average understanding. It is redundant to review the dioxin brouhaha. Instead, we should be educating ourselves in scientific fact.
For more than 40 years, dioxins have been known to exist -- most scientists that I have read regard the dangers as "mass hysteria." Dow Chemical Co. scientists did the original work on dioxins and are probably the most knowledgeable in the world on how to control the dioxin molecule. It is virtually impossible to manage molecules at parts per billion or quadrillion. The general public should be happy to have a formidable company so conscious of our environment.
I would recommend "Decades of Dioxin" by Dr. Warren B. Crummett, a Dow scientist. This book is easy to read and explains the science of dioxins but also points out the social and political issuesthat this problem has become. Much of my knowledge came from his book -- after all, Dr. Crummett spent two decades with world-class scientists researching dioxins.
Let scientists tell us how to solve this problem. It is a complex problem far beyond the knowledge of lay people, politicians and bureaucrats. The most knowledgeable scientists are employed in industry. Some of the best scientific minds live in our community, and don't you think they want our environment safe for their own families as well as ours? When the government becomes involved, the political implications overwhelm the scientific facts. Again, mass hysteria. How many government functions can you name that are more efficient than those run by private enterprise? An equitable combination of government and industry should be involved in vast remediations such as the Tittabawassee project, Love Canal and even Chernobyl.
Who knows who polluted our river? Was it farmer and homeowner use of pesticides? Slaughterhouses and their runoff into the river? Was it forest fires? Was it backyard incineration or was it countywide barbecuing, which burns fat from steaks and burgers? Was it septic tanks and animal manure flowing into the rivers? No one is denying Dow contributed to the problem. I can remember several years ago when the state mandated that Dow incinerate certain toxic chemicals. Did this contribute to the dioxin problem? If farmers and homeowners were the only pollutants, would this brouhaha be taking place? Of course not! It's Dow's deep pockets and human greed pushing this envelope.
We all must admit that technology has increased and improved. We're better able to remediate our problem by decreasing the production of dioxins -- but it does not mean a good corporate citizen should bear the brunt of this total cleanup. Conventional wisdom does not dictate that contaminated soils be disturbed and moved to another site. A recent report said it would take 18 to 20 years and millions upon millions of dollars to remediate the soil, and yet the soil can never be completely cleaned. Another question we should be asking is, why are the permissible levels of dioxins in industrialized European countries 1,000 times more than in the United States?
The only serious consequence of dioxin that I could find in the literature is chloracne -- which affects people in constant contact over a prolonged time or exposed to large doses over a short period of time. Do you know of anyone in this area with chloracne other than some earlier Dow employees? Recently, I listened to Dr. Linda Birnbaum, a world famous authority on dioxin, brought here at the request of the Lone Tree Council and paid by the environmentalists. She went through a litany of maladies that may be an imagined complication of dioxin exposure.
It was no different than reading a drug insert or reading the Physicians Desk Reference on any drug sold through a pharmacy. If you read any drug insert, you would not take any pill.
Look up aspirin or penicillin and read the complications and problems. Dr. Birnbaum had to say something to aid and abet the Lone Tree Council. The bottom line, however, was expressed at the end of her talk when she stated that she didn't think any harm would come to anyone along the river if they didn't eat the soil.
The prime reason for writing is to clarify my position on this subject. I have absolutely no business or personal connection or involvement with any Dow personnel other than owning Dow stock -- which I purchased in the early days of my medical practice. I only know what my instincts and medical knowledge tell me. Dredging and removing soil will take 15 to 20 years and only serve to redistribute the dioxin contamination and at an astronomical cost. The levels of dioxin are coming down. With the aid of wind, water and sun, all the toxins the world has ever produced over the years have been reduced. Sun is the strongest biodegradation force for dioxin, and nature gives us this gift.
Reported environmental and body levels of dioxin have been reduced already over the past 20 years. The best scientific and financial solution for our soil contamination is to leave it alone. The removal of soil and its subsequent replacement is out of touch with reality.
It reminds me of my youth, when my mother would say, "Don't eat all the cookies today; there will be none left for tomorrow." We are eating all the cookies today. What we are doing is making it more difficult to conduct business in this country.
A recent Wall Street Journal article reported that more countries of the world think more highly of the socio-economics of China than they do of the United States. Isn't that strange? We need to be vigilant stewards of our environment but not at the cost of bankrupting law-abiding companies that have given us a standard of living that has been the envy of the world. Remember silicone -- after $4 billion, and bankruptcy, the Food and Drug Administration re-approved silicone breast implants. Large corporations could better spend their money creating products that could treat or cure cancer, Parkinsons, AIDS and other diseases that would truly make us the great U.S.A.
At the one meeting I attended with the Department of Environmental Quality and the public, I became frustrated because Dow and the DEQ were asking questions of people who mostly had no scientific background and most answers were emotional, without scientific backing. They were asking the public what they think should be done about the problem; how their real estate values have become depressed; and what ills they think dioxin has inflicted on them. I was disappointed and upset.
It's like a patient telling the doctor how to treat his illness. Many statements sounded to me like give me money, and I'll go away.
It's at that juncture that I said we'll buy your property. Sign a release from any and all liabilities and we will buy your property for two times the state equalized value -- a good price for contaminated Saginaw real estate. A broker contacted all those who contacted me -- some even refused to pay the broker 3 percent for his paperwork and deed and closing statements. It all boils down to greed in my estimation. I have made arrangements to purchase more than $1 million of riverfront property.
I am not interested in buying high ground that does not border the river. I will continue to buy this land from anyone who feels endangered, at a negotiated price. Most people contacted want more than we offered -- so how can they say property values have gone down?
A June 22 letter to the editor by Carol A. Chisholm asked why I would be doing this. I'll try to explain: I only know what you know. I have no personal or business dealings with Dow. I have no crystal ball but believe helping to keep jobs in Michigan is the right thing to do. By the way, I couldn't find any business friends to join me in this venture of buying property.
Most scientists tell us the best way to solve this problem is to use caution when working on the soil: Wash fruits and vegetables, don't eat the fish and leave the soil alone. In time, all the problems will improve, and we can still have some cookies left to do research and development, and solve other problems of the environment and economy much more serious than dioxins.
I now own many parcels on the river that I neither need nor want. But when you make a commitment, I believe you should live up to it. My prime motive was to keep what business we have left in the Tri-Counties here, and that is in everyone's best interest. v
Dr. Samuel H. Shaheen is a principal owner of SSP Associates Inc., a Saginaw Township-based development company. The company is involved in investments, among others, at the Temple Theatre and Michigan CardioVascular Institute in the center city.
© 2005 Saginaw News
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