Dioxin bill passes in House; effect uncertain
Kathie Marchlewski , Midland Daily News
06/22/2006

A bill passed unanimously in the House of Representatives could mean a change in the state's dioxin cleanup standards.

House Bill 5872, introduced by state Rep. John Moolenaar and approved by a vote of all 104 members of the House present Tuesday, would require the state to recalculate its dioxin contamination cleanup criteria based on a report expected to be released in upcoming months by the National Academy of Sciences.

"I think it's a positive statement by the Michigan House of Representatives that our policy efforts should be guided by the best science," Moolenaar said.

The NAS review of the Environmental Protection Agency's 15-year-long dioxin reassessment is expected to address uncertainties within the document, including the assumptions used in calculating risk. It also will update the assessment with information collected since 1991, when the reassessment began.

Michigan Department of Environmental Quality spokesman Bob McCann said the department would plan to review the NAS report anyway.

"I can't say right now if it will change anything," McCann said. "We don't know what's in the report."

States typically set hazardous compound cleanup levels independently of the federal government. Michigan's residential contact criteria for dioxin is 90 parts per trillion in soil. The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry has an action level of 1,000 parts per trillion.

Both use the same method to calculate their numbers, but the state has set a risk level of 1 in 100,000, while the federal number uses 1 in 1 million.

The NAS review of the EPA reassessment will review modeling assumptions used in calculations and the affect of potential gaps in knowledge. It also will review the scientific evidence for classifying dioxin as a human carcinogen, and the validity of the method used to quantify human risk from exposure.

EPA Project Manager Gregory Rudloff said the EPA will evaluate the contents of the NAS review, and revise its dioxin risk assessments, if necessary.

He said it's not known whether the NAS report will include information useful to the state of Michigan in recalculating its numbers.

"We're a little puzzled by the expectation that there is going to be some sort of definitive response out of the NAS report," Rudloff said.

He said the EPA will plan to respond to the NAS comment. He doesn't know when the dioxin reassessment will be complete.

Moolenaar expects the state Senate to vote on his bill in the fall.

Some predict, however, that its contents will be considered redundant --the state already is required by law to reassess its hazardous compound standards based on new information.

"I thought it was a waste of taxpayer money to move forward with this bill," said James Clift, policy director for the Michigan Environmental Council.

He also believes the bill might be diverting attention from a more serious problem in mid-Michigan -- the contamination that isn't hovering around the 90 part per trillion standard, but is several times higher than even the ATSDR's 1,000 parts per trillion.

"I'm concerned that we seem to be focusing a lot of attention on the end number -- the number on which it's safe to live for 70 years," Clift said. "In the meantime, there's a lot of toxic hotspots that are being ignored."

In the Saginaw River, dioxin levels higher than 20,000 parts per trillion have been measured. The Tittabawassee River has had tests showing more than 8,000 ppt.

Outside of The Dow Chemical Co. facility, no levels higher than 500 have been found in the City of Midland.
 


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