Residents will have options to limit dioxin exposure

Kathie Marchlewski, Midland Daily News 01/30/2005

People whose yards have been identified as priorities for dioxin cleanup will have options when The Dow Chemical Co. comes knocking at their doors.

The state and Dow have agreed those people should be offered house cleaning and loose soil cover to eliminate potential exposure by year-end, though owners will have the opportunity to opt out of activities.

"It's totally voluntary. They don't even have to talk to us, but we encourage them to learn what their options are," said Dow spokesman John Musser.

The plan is detailed in the framework agreement recently announced by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and The Dow Chemical Co. to address contamination and keep the company in compliance with its 2003-issued operating license.

It affects residents of about 250 properties in areas north and northeast of the chemical plant in Midland and within the flood plain of the Tittabawassee River that are expected to have levels of the manufacturing byproduct in their yards beyond the federal action level of 1,000 parts per trillion and more than 10 times the state's clean-up level of 90 ppt. Those people will be contacted in upcoming weeks and informed about dioxin, its exposure pathways and potential remedies. The company also might opt to test top priority areas to verify that contamination there is indeed above the 1,000-ppt. threshold the state has agreed to. If the levels are lower, no action would be taken.

If action plans do move forward, in-house solutions offered could include duct and carpet cleaning and dusting. Outside, loose soil could be covered with sod or wood chips, and gardens could be raised or relocated.

"It's a personal choice," Musser said, adding: "We don't think there's a health risk."

But the level of risk remains a question for some.

Michelle Hurd Riddick of Bay City-based Lone Tree Council is concerned about children raised in homes that sit on contaminated property. While communication will have to be approved by the DEQ before it is presented, she doesn't think Dow should be the one approaching residents to discuss the matter.

"People need to be offered detailed information by the Michigan Department of Community Health or the DEQ, before they decline (Dow action) -- not by the polluter who has a vested interest," Riddick said.

According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, dioxin is a human carcinogen. The groups link high-level exposure to diabetes, birth defects and blood disease and low-level exposure to increases in thyroid and immune function, learning disabilities and effects on tooth enamel.

But a Dow Chemical study published in 2003 shows that cancer rates for 2,187 dioxin-exposed workers it's studied since 1940 are at lower-than expected levels. National statistics show that for a population of that size, 170 people are expected to die of cancer. In the Dow group, which had members who experienced very high levels of dioxin exposure, 168 cancers were observed.

But the company's studies also indicate that dioxin could contribute to specific types of cancer.

In 1998 the company reported to the Environmental Protection Agency that studies of its workers show increased levels of prostate cancer among those exposed to dioxins. A stronger correlation between dioxin exposure and stomach cancer also was found.

Michigan's 90-ppt. standard is a cleanup criterion protective of people who may have long-term exposure to dioxin. The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry level of 1,000 ppt is an action level. ATSDR considers 50 parts per trillion a "safe" level, and uses 1,000 ppt as a level at which action should be taken to interrupt exposure.

Riddick takes issue with the DEQ's deviation from state law in the Dow situation. "State law says 90 ppt or higher needs an interim response," she said. "If that's not happening, we need to be asking why."

Dow is in the process of several studies, including an exposure study conducted by the University of Michigan, that would determine whether or not living on contaminated property increases levels of dioxin in blood. It also is conducting a study to determine how much dioxin is absorbed into the body when soil is ingested. The state in creating its 90 ppt standard uses assumptions to determine that amount, and Dow believes they are too conservative.

The company hopes to prove that point and convince the state to adjust the 90 ppt criteria accordingly.

The DEQ's agreement to allow the studies has been considered a victory by Midland lawmakers, city officials and Midland resident groups who have opposed cleanup action at 90 ppt without complete scientific study. They have wanted definitive proof of health risk for fear of impacting residents unnecessarily.

But the Lone Tree Council and other environmental groups see further study as further delay and plan to ask Gov. Jennifer Granholm and her administration to reconsider the framework plans, its timeline and its implications health-wise.

"It doesn't even rise to the level of a short-term fix, said James Clift, Michigan Environmental Council Policy Director. "It's no fix at all. In fact, it moves us backward on a public health issue of monumental importance. Instead of imposing clean-up deadlines, it focuses on Dow's strategy for more study, more public relations, more delay."

Meanwhile, the DEQ and Environmental Protection Agency are analyzing the framework document and its activities to see that they meet the requirements of the Dow operating license, something that the federal agency will require as it oversees the projects.

"It's a pretty complicated document," said EPA corrective action project manager Greg Rudloff. "We're going to have to look through, but nothing (no conflict) is readily apparent."

 

©Midland Daily News 2005

 


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