MSU crew wants views
Wednesday, March 17, 2004
THE SAGINAW NEWS
Tittabawassee River residents will find more than a vacuum salesman knocking at their doors.
Michigan State University researchers will canvass neighborhoods in the dioxin-polluted floodplain this spring to flush out reasons why some people are engaged in the contamination debate and why some are not.
The $300,000 study, commissioned by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, will focus on in-creasing citizen participation on community issues such as dioxin.
Jo Ann Beckwith, principal research investigator for the university team, said the study is not linked to the dioxin cleanup efforts of the state Department of Environmental Quality and Dow Chemical Co.
She said dioxin simply provides the context for discussing citizen participation.
"This is purely a research process," Beckwith said. "We want to indicate to the EPA methods that would be more useful for getting the unaligned public involved. ... We believe that people can participate to a higher level."
Beckwith plans to knock on doors in April and May, soliciting input from Tittabawassee River residents who aren't engaged in the dioxin debate. Her research team then will organize a series of neighborhood forums that will discuss barriers to participation.
"We're not looking for activists," she said. "This research is not about people who join the groups. We're looking for people who may have read about it in the newspaper, but haven't gotten involved."
Mark Greskowiak, 36, is one of those people. He has kept a distance from the debate, saying dioxin compares to the health craze over electrical lines and radon -- concerns he considers overblown.
Greskowiak said it would take evidence of a legitimate health problem linked to dioxin to get him to participate.
"If I could see solid evidence of a physical health effect, then maybe I would be involved," he said. "But I have neighbors who have been here for generations and have had no health problems."
Those are the responses Beckwith is looking for.
She predicts that some people are over-booked -- perhaps working two jobs or late hours -- or see dioxin as too great a time commitment to break away from family. Some may feel that a decision already is made or that activist groups are representing their interests, she said.
Then again, the research team may find that something else is obstructing participation, Beckwith said.
Researchers will conduct forums in June or July involving an estimated 100 residents and then will release a report to the EPA sometime in 2005. t
Jeremiah Stettler is a staff writer for The Saginaw News. You may reach him at 776-9685.
© 2004 Saginaw News.
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