Researcher: Dioxin risk exists

Kathie Marchlewski, Midland Daily News 08/04/2005

An ecological risk assessor hired by the state to examine risk to local wildlife says dioxin contamination is affecting fish, birds and animals in the Saginaw Valley, particularly along the Tittabawassee River. He also says that while more study needs to be completed, potential risk should not be ignored.

"We've reached the stage where we should talk about 'How do we clean this up?" said Hector Galbraith, president of Galbraith Environmental Sciences, a consulting company based in Vermont. "If I was giving recommendations, it would be, 'How do we clean this up and what level do we clean it up to?'"

Researchers from Michgian State University conducting a $5 million 5-year, Dow-funded study, however, say a first round of results is showing healthy, robust populations of wildlife.

Galbraith's work -- presented to community leaders in Midland in 2003 and again Wednesday at a meeting in Bay City sponsored by the Lone Tree Council and the Partnership for the Saginaw Bay Watershed -- shows that fish in the Tittabawassee, and in the Saginaw River and Bay, have high levels of dioxin in their bodies, some as many as 445 times the levels known to be safe for their predators.

Levels found were more than 200 times higher than those known to be harmful to fish-eating birds such as osprey and eagles and 60 times higher than those known to be harmful to fish-eating mammals such as mink and river otter.

Adverse effects from the contamination, Galbraith said, can be hard to detect. "You don't find dead animals. You find impairment of reproductive success."

Studies conducted by Michigan State University in the 1990s show reproductive issues in mink that were fed fish contaminated with dioxin levels lower than what exists in the Tittabawassee River. Symptoms appeared at very low levels -- when the animals were fed diets consisting 90 percent of clean fish and 10 percent contaminated fish. Mink on the flood plain are expected to have diets that consist entirely of contaminated fish.

Paul Williams of Midland questions the harm caused to local animals. "We've probably got a mink study that's been going on for 100 years," he said. "If I apply the factors (Galbraith speaks to), why wouldn't we see some significant population difference now?"

Dow toxicologist Kent Woodburn and Michigan State University researchers also question Galbraith's findings.

Unlike much of Galbraith's work, which relied somewhat on assumption-based modeling, the MSU study is filling unknowns with actual data.

"It's a great opportunity to become more certain about what is actually going on," said Denise Kay, senior project scientist with Entrix, an Okemos-based company facilitating the MSU study.

She questions Galbraith's work in other ways, noting that some birds sampled, for example, are migratory. "They may be getting sources from other areas," she said.

Galbraith doubts it. He counters that the robust populations of wildlife noted thus far in the MSU research could be a result of the same trend. Animals could be reproducing in uncontaminated areas and moving into contaminated areas.

That's why it will be important to complete the study long-term, and not to jump to conclusions based on preliminary, one-year data, he said.

Data from the MSU study, slated for completion in 2008, will be incorporated into a final risk assessment based on what Kay calls "real world" data.

Dow expects results to help guide cleanup actions and final resolution to the dioxin contamination problem.

İMidland Daily News 2005

 Reader Opinions:

Fred Stoll Aug, 04 2005 How can Dow and its supporters proclaim that dioxin doesn't pose a health risk if they are now doing the study? What data and facts do they have that proves that dioxin isn't a risk?
 


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