Dow, DEQ goal: Communicate openly

Kathie Marchlewski, Midland Daily News 04/07/2005

Now that plans to move forward to resolve the dioxin contamination problem in Midland are in place, local officials, residents and other community leaders say it's time to create an open process and communicate, communicate, communicate.

Michigan Department of Environmental Quality Director Steven Chester said that's just what's going to happen. He came to Midland Wednesday to gather input on how the information should be dispersed. A meeting at the Holiday Inn with about 20 community leaders and a dozen members of the public was one of four the DEQ is conducting in areas affected by dioxin. After months of negotiation with The Dow Chemical Co., a framework agreement setting up plans for remediation is in place, and this first round of meetings is intended to determine ways to best get the community involved and informed.

City Manager Karl Tomion told Chester that in Midland, transparency, cooperation and dialogue with local governments and health officials and will be key. "We want an opportunity to review decisions before they are made, along every step of the process," he said.

The process forward will include public participation and lots of information, Chester said. "We will do that. We will not just say 'This is the number,'" he promised, referring to possible shifts in the state's 90 parts per trillion direct contact criteria.

There are suggestions that the DEQ and Dow saturate every level of the community with information. "Put out as much information as factual and simple as you can," said United Steelworkers of America Local 12075 President Kent Holsing. "As much of it as you can, as often as you can, to whomever you can. You just have to get the stuff out there."

There are some populations that might be harder to reach, but must be contacted, said Midland resident and longtime environmental activist Diane Hebert. Lower-income people are likely to be intimidated by large meetings, she said. She suggests small meetings with those groups. "These are the people getting exposure. These are the people who feel out of the loop," Hebert said.

Others suggested outreach to churches and service organizations.

"It's going to be a challenge for us," Chester said. "Meetings take time, they take organization and they take staff."

Midland Mayor R. Drummond Black agreed the process will not be easy, but said it is important. "We have a highly skeptical community. What we need is an open process so citizens of the community can draw their own conclusions based on the raw data."

The meeting also included some discussion about the framework agreement and its content, including the possibility that the state's allowable level of dioxin might be changed based on studies under way. The most important of those is a bioavailability study being conducted by the University of Missouri -- one that will determine how much dioxin is absorbed into the blood stream through digestion. The absorption rate determined by the study would be plugged into the algorithm the state uses to derive the 90 ppt as a safe level, replacing the assumed rate used now.

The University of Michigan study being conducted by Dr. David Garabrant will be given less weight as the state and Dow work on the number, the company and department agreed. That's because results from that work will not come with a measurement useful to the state's mathematical equation.

That news came as a surprise to Mayor R. Drummond Black and Midland County Health Department Director Michael Krecek. They say it would be a mistake to discount Garabrant's results; contamination becomes a problem to health only if it enters the body.

The Garabrant study, which compares the dioxin levels in people from the Saginaw Valley to an area not expected to be contaminated with industrial dioxin contamination, will provide the answer to the question of whether a person living near Dow has a higher level of dioxin in his or her body. Black said that's important. "If the results come back strong and clear, and (the DEQ) says 'We're not going to change the number,' they're going to have a credibility problem," Black said.

Black and Tomion said they plan to suggest the DEQ and Dow process continue to be monitored carefully. That might include the hiring of an expert to review study results.

The framework agreement includes a provision that Dow fund $50,000 to communities to retain their own expert adviser. The city might apply for that funding, or might continue to fund advice on its own, they said.

"$50,000 wouldn't even scratch the surface," Black said. When the DEQ began talk of further soil testing in Midland, about two years ago, the City sought an attorney specializing in environmental matters. So far it has spent around $300,000 for services.

For additional articles like this one, go to the Tittabawassee 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.