Dioxin deal done: Dow, DEQ agree

Kathie Marchlewski, Midland Daily News

01/20/2005

Saginaw Valley's decades-old dioxin dilemma is a step closer to final resolution. The Dow Chemical Co. and Michigan Department of Environmental Quality announced Wednesday an agreement to immediately begin cleaning up contamination in Midland, the Tittabawassee River and Saginaw River and Bay.

"This framework enables us to take immediate actions while we continue to develop a responsible, science-based, final resolution to the situation for our residents, our communities and the mid-Michigan region," said Susan Carrington, vice president and director of Dow's Michigan Dioxin Initiative.

At the top of the list of priorities in the outline of activity are efforts to keep citizens from contact with the toxin contaminating yards and riverbanks. In upcoming weeks, Dow will be contacting residents whose properties' dioxin levels are believed to exceed 1,000 parts per trillion. In Midland, that includes homes on Corning Lane and a neighborhood north of Corning Lane, and three day-care centers. Along the river flood plain, it includes about 100 homes whose yards filled with water when the river crept over its banks during the flood of March 2004.

By year-end, Dow will be required to remove soils and dirt from inside those homes and cover exposed soil with barriers such as pavement or wood chips. The City of Midland has stepped in to take care of soil covering and house cleaning for the day care centers, which are outside of the neighborhoods the DEQ considers most contaminated.

City Manager Karl Tomion said the city saw the inclusion of the daycares as a potential deal-breaker in the negotiations and offered to enter into a separate agreement with the State of Michigan to offer this mitigation assistance to the three homes. Dow will not be a party to the agreement, though it might be asked for funding for the project, Tomion said.

Tomion said he doesn't agree with the DEQ's insistence to include the properties, but wanted to see the framework progress.

"The City strongly believes that these residences are no different than many family-occupied homes adjacent to these daycares and throughout many other areas across the city," he said. "However, the MDEQ made it a non-negotiable IRA requirement and Dow refuses to include them in any regulatory agreement or plan. From our perspective there is just too much for our residents to gain from the 'framework' agreement to let it fail over the MDEQ's illogical position."

Within the framework, Dow also will be providing funding to local governments to clean up river sediments deposited onto paved public areas in Imerman Park, Freeland Festival Park, Caldwell Boat Launch and other frequently flooded locations.

A full list of the interim response activities, along with the framework document, is expected to be posted this afternoon on the DEQ website, www.michigan.gov/deq.

The tasks, starting points for a larger and final cleanup plan, are similar to those proposed by Dow in 2003 and originally scheduled for completion in 2004. Activity was halted in May after a flurry of objection from Midlanders and local lawmakers and public officials. Gov. Jennifer Granholm stepped in, sending Dow and the DEQ into closed-door negotiations to reach a solution that would be protective of both human health and the local and state economy. The department and Dow say their agreement does just that, and will move forward with the public involved in the final resolution.

"It gets us back into the public domain," said DEQ Director Steven E. Chester. "There are a lot of key stakeholders who need to be brought into this process."

Unlike the plans outlined earlier, the new framework includes the eastern portion of the affected region; the Saginaw Bay and River had been scheduled for four years of evaluation before plans would be developed. The document also allows room for re-evaluation of the state's 90 part per trillion residential direct contact criteria.

"The framework and existing laws are flexible enough to allow Dow to pursue site-specific criteria," Chester said.

The DEQ has been holding to state law requiring mitigation at any site that has soil contaminated with dioxin levels in excess of 90 ppt. That would mean that as many as 9,000 Midland yards contaminated by historical airborne emission from the neighborhood chemical plant could need cleanup.

The City of Midland, Dow, and more than 1,500 residents have been opposed to action based on that criteria, saying more study was needed to determine if the number is overly conservative.

Karl Tomion said the change is reassuring.

"This gives us a change to start over with the DEQ regulatory level," Tomion said. "Now we have a criteria. They're going to consider the scientific studies."

Dow will have the opportunity to study the bioavailability of dioxin in soils -- that is, the absorption rate of dioxin attached to soil and consumed by humans -- and to argue that the state residential contact criteria be changed based on outcomes. A pilot study conducted by the University of Missouri has been completed and will be reviewed by the DEQ with the help of a scientific advisory panel before a full study moves forward.

"We can't predict what the outcomes will be," Carrington said. "It could change the number -- it could be higher or lower, but it will be better than assumptions, which by nature are conservative."

Dow also has funded two other studies, one ecological assessment of animals under way under the direction of Michigan State University and a human exposure study being conducted by the University of Michigan.

The DEQ will consider the results of studies in accordance with state law, Chester said.

©Midland Daily News 2005

 


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