Engineer: Dow data was bad

Employee claims she was demoted after questioning test results on Tittabawassee River

Thursday, December 6, 2007 . Paul Egan / The Detroit News

Dow Chemical Co. knowingly submitted bad data about chemical levels in the Tittabawassee River to state environmental regulators, a company insider alleges in a whistleblower lawsuit.

Priscilla Denney, a Dow engineer who says she was responsible for validating Dow's data about levels of dioxin and other chemicals before it was sent to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, alleges in a lawsuit filed in Saginaw County Circuit Court that she was demoted after raising concerns about the data.

On Wednesday, a Dow spokeswoman denied that the company demoted Denney, who still works for the Midland-based chemical giant. Also, "we do stand by the data that was submitted," Jennifer Heronema said. "It was accurate, reliable data."

By demoting Denney in January and requiring her to work from home, Dow ensured she "would be silenced and not be an obstacle to the submission of unvalidated data" to the state, Denney alleges in the lawsuit, which was served on Dow last week.

Dow admits it discharged dioxin -- a highly toxic cancer-causing chemical -- into the water and air from its Midland plant for many years, though it says it stopped the practice decades ago.

Dow is required to test and report soil and water conditions around the Tittabawassee as part of a 2005 agreement reached with the state to settle a lawsuit filed by Midland-area residents.

Denney, represented by Saginaw attorney Victor Mastromarco, was a project engineering specialist responsible for the validation of chemical samples collected by a Dow contractor, Ann Arbor Technical Services Inc., and analyzed by another contractor, TriMatrix Laboratories of Grand Rapids.

Project Enhancement Corp., the Germantown, Md., company hired to validate data from samples collected in August 2006, rejected the data that November because of "major technical non-compliance," Denney alleges in the lawsuit.

Heronema confirmed Project Enhancement rejected the data, but said Dow had it tested by another company, which she could not identify. That company said Project Enhancement applied the wrong standards and the data was acceptable, she said. The samples in question did not relate to dioxin, but to other chlorinated chemicals and some metals, she said.

Denney alleges she reported the flaws to her supervisors, but Dow "submitted said bad data to the (state) on or about Feb. 1, 2007."

In retaliation for reporting the data validation problems, Denney alleges she was demoted.

Robert McCann, a spokesman for the DEQ, said that in response to the lawsuit, the state asked Dow Monday for the backup information showing the data the company provided is valid.

"We expect to have it by the end of the week," McCann said.

There is no indication in the lawsuit whether the alleged data flaws would result in chemical levels being understated or exaggerated.

Last month, scientists found a spot in the Saginaw River where the dioxin reading was 1.6 million parts per trillion -- 20 times higher than any previous sample in U.S. Environmental Protection Agency archives, officials said. Levels above 90 parts per trillion trigger state action.

Ricardo Martinez, president of Project Enhancement, did not return a phone call. According to the complaint, Project Enhancement terminated its contract with Dow as a result of the data problems in December 2006.

Peter Simon, project manager for Ann Arbor Technical Services, declined comment.

Farmington Hills attorney Martin Bordoley said TriMatrix "felt their data was completely accurate."

You can reach Paul Egan at (313) 222-2069 or pegan@detnews.com.

 
 
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