Dioxin survey tests public input
 Sunday, October 30, 2005

Michigan State University scientists weren't looking to resolve the dioxin debate. They just wanted to know the best way to talk about it.

MSU investigators completed a $300,000 study this month that sought a better way to collect community input than a traditional public hearing.

"Most public hearings are one-way talking in two directions," said Alice Diebel, senior field investigator. "Public officials provide information to the citizens and citizens provide opinions to the public officials. There really isn't any dialogue going on."

The study, that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency commissioned, was to test a meeting format known as an "issue forum" that involves people in round-table discussions about matters such as environmental contamination.

Turnout was low -- just 53 people out of nine neighborhoods attended meetings in July and August 2004 -- but Diebel reported that the sessions were effective in exploring community values, increasing understanding about issues and producing constructive results about how to deal with problems.

"What we showed the scientific community is that (the forums) are useful on an issue that is technical in nature," Diebel said. "There are values behind technical issues that often go unaddressed."

MSU investigators knocked on more than 1,000 doors, collected survey data from 378 people and received commitments from 145 residents to participate in a forum in their neighborhood.

They said most people knew about dioxin contamination -- about nine out of 10 people -- and characterized it as a "high" health risk for people living in the Tittabawassee River floodplain or eating fish out of the river. They also considered dioxin a danger to wildlife.

The only real difference between people who agreed to participate in the dioxin forum and those who did not was in the number of people who believed dioxin could threaten their own household.

One-third of the residents who declined to participate didn't know what effect the toxin might have on them. Only 12 percent of participants shared the same uncertainty.

Researchers already have mailed a summary of the report to participants. They will submit a more detailed document to the EPA this week. v

For additional articles like this one, go to the Tittabawassee 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.