Many refusing dioxin cleanup

July 3, 2005
Kathie Marchlewski, Midland Daily News

More than half of the homeowners suspected to have yards with the highest levels of local dioxin contamination have yet to respond to The Dow Chemical's state-mandated offer to clean their homes and cover loose soil outside.

The company is in the process of completing interim response activities -- activities intended to limit human exposure to dioxins -- at 454 residences in the Tittabawassee River flood plain and in Midland. Of the 454 labeled top priorities because of their likelihood to have dioxin levels exceeding the federal clean-up level of 1,000 parts per trillion of the toxin in soil, 33 have had their carpets and ductwork cleaned, surfaces dusted and loose dirt covered with clean soil. Another 173 have been visited and offered services, and 16 people have declined to participate; the program is voluntary, but recommended by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.

About 235 people have not responded to Dow's attempts to reach them with offers. About 14 refused. "We don't know what their reasons are," said Dow spokesman John Musser. The company is required to make a "best effort" to contact all homes, something it has to continually prove to the DEQ is under way. DEQ Deputy Director Jim Sygo said he doesn't think it's unusual for some people to hesitate to accept the interim remedies. "Some are waiting. Some are mulling it over a little more," he suspects. That was the case for flood plain resident Shirley Salas, who lives in a "Priority 1" area and recently agreed to have Dow-contracted landscapers working in her yard to cover loose dirt. "We didn't respond right away; they called us," she said.

Because she has been vocal about her opinion that dioxin is not harmful to health and that the DEQ should ease up on regulations, she wasn't sure if she should accept the offerings. "I was afraid people would think I was caving," she said.

But fear of dioxin wasn't the reason she agreed. Salas said she doesn't know if there is contamination in her backyard; it hasn't been tested so it hasn't been confirmed. She wanted to "make lemonade" out of the offering -- her yard needed some sprucing up and she hadn't been able to get to it in recent years. "I decided to do it because it's so messy out there," Salas said.

"These guys gave me a head start." She also wanted to set an example. "I felt that by following through with the procedure, I would be an example for my neighbors who were hesitant about having the remediation done in their own backyards." Some aren't as gratified by the free landscape and cleaning and question how effective the measures will be.

Martha Stimpson said she knows she has dioxin contamination -- her yard has been sampled and tests confirmed levels of dioxin as high as 900 parts per trillion. While the work by Dow contractors was done professionally and consultants were helpful and polite, she said she's not convinced that the interim response activities will keep her from exposure.

"I continue to wonder why anyone would think dusting would be a solution to dioxin contamination," Stimpson said. "I clean my house daily. To come in with a mop and a blue cloth -- it's somewhat insulting -- as if that will somehow be better than what we've been doing."

Stimpson said that while Dow contractors have offered to cover backyard soils with new, clean dirt, it's likely that remedy will disappear into the river during the next flood or become contaminated.

"I need some kind of barrier to recontamination," she said. The solution she suggests is a break wall that would keep river sediments in the river and out of her yard.

DEQ officials say those types of long-term solutions may become reality in the future. "The clean-up efforts going on now are not the only things that will be happening," said spokesman Bob McCann. "It's another safeguard; not an end-all to the problem. It's an interim response designed to protect the public health while a final solution is being developed." Homeowners contacted Tittabawassee River homes

Contacted: 351

Visited: 140

Mitigation completed: 28

No response from owners: 189

Declined: 14

Midland homes


Visited: 49

Mitigation completed: 5

No response from owners: 46

Declined: 2

©Midland Daily News 2005


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.