$800,000 soil study to test pigs, rats

Tuesday, September 14, 2004


Dioxin getting under your skin? State lawmakers want to find out for sure.

Rep. John A. Moolenaar, a Midland Republican, has championed an $800,000 study that will use animals to determine how much dioxin enters the bloodstream after ingesting contaminated soil or breathing dioxin-laden dust.

The proposal passed both houses of the state Legislature by a near unanimous vote late last week. Approval is pending before Gov. Jennifer M. Granholm.

"It's important that we come to a consensus in the community about the value of good science," Moolenaar said.

The six-month analysis, funded by the Clean Michigan Initiative, will use pigs and rats to determine how much dioxin lingers in the body after eating tainted soil. Scientists then will tailor that data to humans.

The study will incorporate soils specific to Midland.

The proposal calls on an out-of-state university or other "qualified organization" to conduct the research. It also requires a three-month peer review by the state environmental science board.

But Patricia Spitzley, spokeswoman for the state Department of Environmental Quality, said it doesn't settle well for her agency.

"It is not an appropriate use of taxpayer dollars," she said. "This type of study is the responsibility of the company doing the corrective action."

While the study will not affect the department's operations budget, she said it still drains resources from the Clean Michigan Initiative, a voter-approved bond used for environmental cleanup and natural resource protection.

"It is still taxpayer money," she said.

The proposal has garnered support from Bill Egerer, founder of the Midland Matters citizens group that had advocated research before remediation.

"There are such distortions as to what the impact of having dioxin in the soil means," he said. "This will infuse science, facts and data into forming policy decisions about what needs to be done with contaminated soil."

Similar comments echoed from the Saginaw County Health Department.

Kevin Datte, director of environmental health services, said his department favors such research, adding it could help bridge an information gap about how dioxin in the soil relates to dioxin in the blood -- data that are key to determining the extent of environmental cleanup.

"Before we take any drastic measures, we need to determine if there is an impact," he said.

But Michelle Hurd Riddick, spokeswoman for the environmental watchdog group Lone Tree Council, said the $800,000 price tag is Dow's responsibility.

"In these tough economic times, why are the taxpayers being burdened to do a study for Dow Chemical?" she said.

Moolenaar said state funding would remove perceptions of bias that have plagued other Dow-funded studies.

"We are better off erring on the side of state funding," he said. "We don't want any questions raised as to whether we can count on the data that is collected."

Dow is paying for a near-identical study by the University of Missouri-Columbia, however. Like Moolenaar's proposal, scientists are measuring how much dioxin remains in pigs and rats after ingesting Midland area soils.

The $500,000 pilot study, conceived during the Gov. John Engler administration and restarted in May when dioxin issues captured state attention, will yield results in December.

Dow spokeswoman Anne Ainsworth described Moolenaar's study as redundant.

"We don't see a need for it," she said. "They would be duplicating what we're doing."

Moolenaar did not provide a timeline as to when the state's study would start, but suggested that it likely would begin this year. The study will run six months with a three-month peer review period. t

© 2004 Saginaw News.


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