Environmentalists skeptical, public officials encouraged

Friday, January 21, 2005

JEREMIAH STETTLER THE SAGINAW NEWS Make it public. Make it complete.

That's what environmental and regulatory communities are saying about a newly reached dioxin cleanup pact between the state Department of Environmental Quality and Dow Chemical Co.

After seven months of closed-door negotiations, state officials revealed a plan this week that calls for immediate action in the most contaminated neighborhoods along the Tittabawassee River and near Corning Lane in Midland. It also requires a long-range cleanup plan, stretching from the Tittabawassee River to Saginaw Bay, with a first blueprint due from Dow by the end of the year.

"It looks like a reasonable approach," said Greg Rudloff, corrective action project manager for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. "Our goal is to ensure that there is adequate characterization and remediation of dioxin contamination in the watershed."

The EPA had not received a copy of the agreement late Thursday and could not provide an official endorsement of or objection to the plan.

A full-text version of the document is available online, with maps depicting areas of highest contamination at www.mi.gov/deqdioxin.

Yet even before the agreement appeared, Midland City Manager Karl Tomion said the framework seems to remedy the problems that rankled residents last spring at a crowded meeting in the Midland Center for the Arts.

There, residents protested state-mandated soil sampling. They argued that the state's action level of 90 parts per trillion could expose thousands of properties to a "hazardous waste facility" designation without scientific justification for the standard.

Tomion said the DEQ-Dow pact provides a more fitting framework.

While the agreement does not close the door on future soil sampling, it allows Dow to investigate a more appropriate standard for Midland through a bioavailability study. The study would determine how much dioxin lingers in the body from eating or inhaling contaminated soil. Scientists then could use that data to set a cleanup standard specific to Midland.

"Our position was not to oppose soil sampling," Tomion said. "It was to oppose sampling without the proper criteria to judge it."

Tomion said the pact's allowance for more science will ensure that cleanup standards are based on data specific to mid-Michigan.

Environmentalists remain doubtful that a comprehensive plan will materialize any time soon.

James P. Clift, policy director for the Michigan Environmental Council, said the plan seems to move too sluggishly toward revitalizing the watershed.


"What I was looking for is real progress," he said. "Are we moving to a level of cleanup that allows for the full use of the watershed by the public? Can people swim in the water? Can they fish? Can they eat the fish? Right now, it still seems we are moving too slowly."

EPA officials say the actions recommended by the cleanup plan seem sufficient for protecting the public health while a more comprehensive document is drafted.

Under the agreement, Dow will have until the end of 2005 to reduce dioxin exposure in areas of highest contamination in Saginaw and Midland counties. The company will clean homes, provide new topsoil and even buy doormats for property owners whose land contains dioxin levels above 1,000 parts per trillion.

Dr. Neill Varner, medical director for the Saginaw County Health Department, said state officials now must make their plans -- and resulting achievements -- public.

"The criticism we have heard repeatedly from environmental groups is that (state officials) promise and promise but don't do anything," he said. "While there may be reasons for that perception, the parties really need to engage the public in a way that the public understands what is going on."


DEQ Director Steven E. Chester said he is committed to an open process and will schedule public forums beginning in February. v

Jeremiah Stettler is a staff writer at the Saginaw News. You may reach him at 776-9685.

© 2005 Saginaw News

For additional articles like this one, go to the Tittabawasse River Watch web site www.trwnews.net 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.