State to check river, bay for toxic 'hot spots'

Sunday, September 26, 2004


State officials are probing deeper into a pollution problem that has left a trail of toxins as far as six miles into Saginaw Bay.

The state Department of Environmental Quality has announced a new round of dioxin testing that will venture outside the Tittabawassee River and into the less-charted Saginaw River and Saginaw Bay.

While the samples would occur miles downstream of the accused polluter Dow Chemical Co., previous tests have revealed harmful levels of the contaminant in shoreline soils and sediments farther into the region's shipping channels.

Dioxin is not just a Tittabawassee River problem, officials say. It is a watershed problem.

"There certainly is no hydraulic barrier between the Tittabawassee and Saginaw rivers," said Al Taylor, senior geologist for the state's waste and hazardous materials division.

Backed financially by a $180,000 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency grant, the state will begin searching the river bottom for possible "hot spots" in pollution in early October. Researchers will take 121 samples to test for various toxic chemicals including dioxin.

While data already exists along the Saginaw River -- thanks to sampling by the DEQ and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers over the past five years -- it is not nearly as complete as found along the Tittabawasssee River. Taylor said the state hopes to fill those gaps.

"We need to understand where the dioxin is," he said.

Taylor expects results by May or June.

Dow spokeswoman Anne Ainsworth said news of state sampling reached her office for the first time Friday. She said the chemical giant has no hand in the study, financially or physically.

Ainsworth noted, however, that Dow has committed more than $25 million to other dioxin-related investigations to determine the extent and impact of dioxin contamination on mid-Michigan.

"All this is being done as part of our commitment to resolving this issue," she said.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is on the cusp of releasing its own sampling results along Saginaw river and Saginaw bay.

Pam Horner, a physical scientist for the Corps, said she will reveal data about 40 sampling sites within weeks. The information, taken as part of ongoing plans to dredge the Saginaw river for shipping, is expected to shed light on contamination levels from Saginaw city out into the bay.

Horner said the data was gathered as part of "routine" sampling.

The Corps completed a similar probe in 1999 that uncovered dioxin levels as high as 188 parts per trillion in the mouth of Saginaw Bay. Dioxin remained elevated six miles from shore with readings of 42 parts per trillion.

Taylor described the findings as concerning.

While some concentrations are considerably lower than the state's standard for residential contamination -- now pegged at 90 parts per trillion -- Taylor said they still are much too high for protecting fish and wildlife.

The geologist did not put a number on a "safe" level of dioxin, but said waterways typically harbor concentrations less than 6 parts per trillion.

State officials have blamed much of the contamination of Dow. They say the chemical fingerprint of the toxins found in the bay resemble those released by the Midland-based company.

However, Dow isn't the only one at fault, Taylor said. Some of the chemicals are dioxin-like compounds, such as PCBs, that likely stemmed from other sources. t

© 2004 Saginaw News


For additional articles like this one, go to the Tittabawasse River Watch web site for complete coverage of the Tittabawassee River Dow Chemical dioxin contamination saga. . The Newspaper / Media page of our site contains an extensive archive of media articles dating back to January 2002. The source organization's web site link is listed to the right of the article, visit often for other news in our area. The Newspaper / Media page may be accessed by scrolling down to the bottom of the CONTENTS section and clicking on the Newspaper/Media link.