Legislators jump in on dioxin issue

Kathie Marchlewski , Midland Daily News




Native Midland legislators are listening. After a Wednesday community meeting on dioxin, Republicans state Sen. Tony Stamas and state Rep. John Moolenaar introduced legislation that would lift Michigan's action level for dioxin to the federal rate of 1,000 parts per trillion until there is evidence that a reduction is necessary.

The move comes as the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality plans for soil testing in Midland and mitigation of areas that have levels above 90 parts per trillion of dioxin in soil. Nearly 9,000 households and 21,000 people could be affected.
The DEQ would also label contaminated properties "facilities," a designation that would require property owners to disclose information to potential buyers and could limit use and lower property values.

Previous tests show that properties in neighborhoods northeast of The Dow Chemical Co. plant site are likely to exceed the state limit and become subject to action.

Senate Bill 1276 and House Bill 5963 were introduced Thursday. The legislation would not set the level at 1,000 ppt in the event that health and safety concerns were evident, but would allow the higher level until science showed a problem, Moolenaar said.

The University of Michigan plans to launch a dioxin exposure study in July. The study is expected to be completed in 18 to 24 months.

"As a father raising six children here, I believe it is important to protect the public health of our families using good sound science and sound judgment," Moolenaar said.

"Enforcing the federal guidelines, with a health study guiding our efforts, is responsible and in the best interest of MidMichigan, Moolenaar said. "Implementing such an aggressive DEQ rule without the research to back it up has the potential to devastate our economy and the quality of life residents now enjoy."
Stamas agrees that health is a concern, but said science to back it up is a necessity.

"This legislation is consistent with federal guidelines, which are based on measurable factors such as the health of the community. Decisions must be based on sound science," he said.

A committee to review the legislation in the state House is expected to be assigned next week, Moolenaar said. While he doesn't know how soon hearings will be conducted on the bill, Moolenaar said "There is an urgency."

At the federal level, U.S. Rep. Dave Camp, R-Midland, is also speaking out on the issue.

"We are all anxious to find out at what point excessive levels of dioxin become dangerous. However, the governor and her DEQ have no plan to answer that question -- only a plan to dig up our yards and devalue our property," Camp said.

He added that the federal Environmental Protection Agency is working on a reassessment of dioxin regulations. "We need to let these scientists complete their work, and we need to move forward with a comprehensive health study," Camp said.
Other legislators are joining in efforts.

"Given what's at stake in terms of the public health and economic health of Midland, we need to be cautious," said Senate Majority Leader Ken Sikkema, R-Wyoming. "The DEQ should not just make an arbitrary decision without considering all the facts."

State House Speaker Rick Johnson, R-LeRoy, is also urging a responsible approach.

"Residents in this area have worked their entire lives to build homes and create a comfortable existence," Johnson said. "We must make sure the DEQ doesn't unnecessarily threaten thousands of people's livelihoods by virtue of some questionable bureaucratic label."

©Midland Daily News 2004

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