Kathie Marchlewski, Midland Daily News 05/07/2005
Michigan State University researchers collecting moles, voles, insects, birds, fish and mink for an ecological risk assessment have a Dow High graduate helping guide their way up and down the Tittabawassee River.
Bill Sterling of Midland, now graduated from Alma College, has joined the team of graduate and undergraduate students undertaking a study of dioxin contamination and its effects on wildlife living on the river's flood plain. Commissioned by The Dow Chemical Co., guided by MSU professor Matt Zwiernik and under the direction of National Food and Safety and Toxicology Center researcher John P. Giesy, the group has been collecting wildlife samples year-round since September 2003.
"We like to pick up local experts," Zwiernik said. "They walk out here a lot more than we have." Collection locations are up and downstream from Dow's Midland facility. The range will allow comparisons between animals that feed at places with varying levels of the chemical manufacturing byproduct: the Sanford dam area, Chippewa Nature Center, Smith's Crossing, Shiawassee National Refuge and Freeland Festival, Tittabawassee Township and Imerman Park.
Sterling will work for 90 days this summer and joined the effort through contacts at Alma, where he earned a biology degree. While he always has been somewhat of an outdoorsman, the 22-year-old said he didn't realize the breadth of wildlife that roams the Midland area.
"There's an amazing plethora of wildlife that I haven't seen in the city," he said. And while he worked on a survey of nocturnal owls during his undergraduate studies, he hadn't seen the great-horned species until a couple of weeks ago, when he started working on the MSU project.
"The first day we found one up in the tree," he said. "I've seen everything out there... falcons, owls, deer, turkey...."
The MSU team is commissioned by Dow to conduct the research and results will be released as they come in, though a final determination on effects to wildlife is not expected until 2008. So far, 560 biological samples have been collected and a first round of testing is complete, though characterizing the results of any part of the study before completion would be premature, Zwiernik said.
He said he hasn't seen anything unusual yet. "We're finding pretty much what one would expect to find in the habitats we're looking at," he added.
Dow spokesman John Musser said information gathered will be helpful as the company and state move ahead with a final solution to the contamination problem.
In its broad $5 million assessment, MSU researchers will provide a full-view of exposure pathways within the flood plain food web. Many species there have not been tested.
"It will be useful, but it's not something that we're waiting for like the bioavailability study," said Michigan Department of Environmental Quality spokesman Bob McCann, referring to a University of Missouri study under way to find out how much dioxin people absorb through digestion of contaminated soil.
That study's results might be used in a re-evaluation of the state's 90 ppt. residential direct contact criteria, which some consider too conservative. Another study by the University of Michigan is expected to show if people who live on contaminated property have higher levels of dioxin in their blood.
To date, the state has received some results from the MSU ecological risk assessment. When paired with other data collected in recent years, DEQ consultant Hector Galbraith believes there is evidence that "a number of important ecosystem components are contaminated with dioxins and furans."
©Midland Daily News 2005
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