September 14, 2004
BY HUGH McDIARMID JR.
FREE PRESS STAFF WRITER
For the second time in Michigan, a warning against eating wild game is being issued by state health officials who say dioxin contamination downstream from Midland's Dow Chemical Co. complex has reached dangerous levels.
The Michigan Department of Community Health will announce today an advisory against eating wild turkey meat or deer liver and urge consumers to limit consumption of venison and squirrel harvested in or near at least 22 miles of the floodplain along the Tittabawassee River. Although dozens of advisories exist for fish tainted with toxic chemicals, it is only the second time the state has issued such a warning for terrestrial animals.
Dow officials, embroiled in tense negotiations with the state about cleanup of dioxins in the region, said Monday that they agreed with part of the advisory but contended state regulators have overstated the risks from venison.
Dioxins, a family of chemicals created by incineration and chemical manufacturing, are linked to altered metabolism, hormonal changes and increases in diabetes and cancers.
The warning affects some of the state's most popular hunting areas, said Sam Washington, director of the Michigan United Conservation Clubs. The Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge, bordering the Tittabawassee south of Saginaw, is particularly bountiful.
"It's a nationally known waterfowl area and outstanding deer habitat ... It's a part of our state that has very, very strong hunting presence. It's a bloody shame that sportsmen have to be concerned about eating the fish, and now the game," he said.
Other game species also may be contaminated with dioxins, state experts said. But the advisory is limited to the three types of animals included in the Dow study.
"These toxins are accumulating in land animals that are fairly low on the food chain," reads a state Department of Environmental Quality analysis of the Dow study. "As these animals are eaten by their predators, further biomagnification is expected." Biomagnification refers to increased contamination of animals higher in the food chain.
The warning could be a catalyst for ongoing dioxin cleanup talks between Dow and state officials including Lt. Gov. John Cherry and DEQ Director Steve Chester. State regulators say Dow's dioxin extends down the Tittabawassee into the Saginaw River and Saginaw Bay.
Chester has insisted that some cleanup should begin immediately, while Dow says a more comprehensive plan can be developed after data from several studies are available in several years.
"People should take notice of this. The whole food web is being contaminated. It's a watershed issue and a Great Lakes issue," said Tracey Easthope, director of the Environmental Health Project for the Ecology Center in Ann Arbor.
Today's warning is based on a Dow-funded study released in July.
The study showed higher levels of dioxin in meat tested downstream of the plant, where large amounts of the potent chemical were released into the air and water in the first half the 1900s.
Meat from deer downstream of the complex had dioxin up to seven times higher than upstream venison, according to a state review of the data. Squirrel meat was up to 40 times higher, turkey meat up to 66 times higher and deer livers up to 118 times higher.
"We don't issue advisories like this on a whim," said T.J. Bucholz, community health spokesman. "This is rooted in serious health concerns."
Dow spokeswoman Anne Ainsworth said the company agrees with the advice against eating deer liver or turkey skin. But "we still conclude that individuals who consume venison, squirrel or turkey with the skin off taken south of Midland would incur no greater exposure than by eating meat, fish or poultry from the national food supply," Ainsworth wrote in an e-mail.
The advisory makes the following recommendations for game in the Tittabawassee floodplain, from Midland to Saginaw.
•Do not eat turkey. But if you do, remove the skin, gizzard and liver, organs where dioxin accumulates.
•Do not eat liver from deer.
•Limit consumption of venison, and trim all visible fat, where dioxin is stored. Women of childbearing age and children under age 15 should eat only one meal of venison per week.
•Limit consumption of squirrel meat, with a one-meal-per-week limit advised for women and children.
It was unclear Monday how far away from the river's banks the advisory would affect. DEQ spokesman Bob McCann said department scientists were working on that question late Monday afternoon.
The only other such wild game advisory was issued in 1981, said Steve Schmitt, veterinarian in charge of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Disease Laboratory. It was issued for pheasant, grouse, raccoon, muskrat and opossums harvested near the Gratiot County landfill, where PBBs -- man-made chemicals used in fire retardants that were banned in 1976 --were polluting the ecosystem. That advisory was lifted in 1995.
Contact HUGH McDIARMID JR. at 248-351-3295 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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