Dow releases plan to clean up dioxin

Thursday, January 20, 2005


The state Department of Environmental Quality has reached an agreement with Dow Chemical Co. that could insulate hundreds of property owners from dioxin this year.

The plan requires immediate relief for highly polluted properties along the Tittabawassee River and in neighborhoods near Corning Lane in Midland. Actions could include house cleaning, covering contaminated soil and landscaping.

The agreement also calls for a more comprehensive cleanup plan that addresses not only the Tittabawassee River, but also the Saginaw River and Saginaw Bay.

Details of the plan were to go online today at deq/dioxin.

Under the agreement, Dow will have until the end of 2005 to reduce dioxin exposure on the most contaminated properties in Saginaw and Midland counties. Dow plans to offer residents a variety of cleanup options, ranging from covering bare spots of yard with clean soil to dusting bookshelves.

Other properties, which were submerged during a March 2004 flood but have lower dioxin levels, will receive similar treatment starting in 2006.

"This framework ensures that the cleanup activities undertaken by Dow will be protective of human health and the environment," said DEQ Director Steven E. Chester.

Looking long-term

Chester said his department will take a "leading role" in developing a long-term cleanup plan for the Saginaw River watershed. While he provided no deadline for when the document would materialize, he said it would undergo extensive public comment and review.

What residents will see from the plan, however, is a broader scope of cleanup that includes the Saginaw River and Saginaw Bay -- areas where the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers found dioxin levels well above state standards.

Dow will shoulder primary responsibility for cleanup in the upper Saginaw River. State officials have identified a five-mile stretch that Dow must treat as an extension of the Tittabawassee River.

The lower Saginaw River and bay will fall under a separate standard. Dow shares less liability because of tributaries and other industries that may have contributed to dioxin levels, regulators say.

Chester said the parties have considered forming a trust fund, paid by Dow and other industries, that officials could use for environmental improvements.

The Midland matter

State officials aren't writing off the need for future soil sampling in Midland -- a community that rose up en masse against state-mandated testing last fall.

Chester said the state will not require sampling as an immediate remedial action. However, he said Dow may ask for testing in the future.

What the framework does allow for is a "bioavailability" study that would use pigs and rats to determine how much dioxin lingers in the body after eating contaminated soil.

By tailoring that data to humans, researchers could decide how much dioxin reaches residents' blood by living on contaminated property.

Dow ultimately could use that study to propose a cleanup standard specific to Saginaw and Midland counties -- perhaps above the 90 parts per trillion now allowed by law.

Although Dow would conduct the study, Chester said state-selected toxicologists would scrutinize the research to ensure objectivity. If a change in the cleanup standard is warranted, the state would have to approve it, he said.

Bill Egerer, founder of the Midland Matters coalition, favors the bioavailability study. "We want heavy doses of science in creating any regulatory policy," he said.

But Egerer, who has stood behind the eight-month negotiation between Dow and DEQ, said state officials now must involve the public to a greater extent. He said the department has lost credibility because of its exclusion of local health departments and government officials.

Still skeptical

Michelle Hurd Riddick, spokeswoman for the environmental watchdog group Lone Tree Council, is skeptical that the framework released this week will effectively rid the watershed of dioxin.

"We are into the third decade of contamination of the Tittabawassee River," she said. "I'm not so sure that this framework to a larger agreement addresses those decades of contamination in terms of public health and natural resources."of the full agreement in hand. v

Jeremiah Stettler is a staff writer at the Saginaw News. You may reach him at


© 2005 Saginaw News


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