Dow Chemical's Dioxin Find Piles on More Eco-Trouble
CHICAGO, Illinois, November 13, 2007 (ENS) - Operating on its own work plan, which has not been approved by either the federal or state authorities, Dow Chemical Friday discovered a previously unknown dioxin hot spot on the Saginaw River.

When the company notified the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality as it must by law, the state and federal agencies jumped into cleanup mode.

Dioxins are highly toxic compounds that pose serious risks to human health and the environment. EPA's reassessment of the most recent scientific findings on dioxin indicates that it is a more potent chemical than previously understood.

Late Friday, Dow notified both agencies of preliminary, unvalidated results of over 1.6 million parts per trillion (ppt) of dioxin in one sample of sediment taken from the Saginaw River.

This concentration is 50 times higher than a 32,000 ppt level, previously the highest found in the Saginaw River. And It is 15 times higher than any dioxin levels found at hot spots in the nearby Tittabawassee River where there are three hot spots that Dow must cleaned up by year's end.

This new Saginaw River sample came from a location a half mile below the confluence of the Tittabawassee and Shiawassee Rivers, roughly adjacent to Wickes Park.

On the Saginaw River looking towards Wickes Park. This is where the new dioxin hot spot was found. (Photo credit unknown)
The 93 acre riverfront park in South Saginaw, is a permanent community asset derived from the Wickes Foundation established in 1945 by industrialist H. Randall Wickes. It features a children's playground and small boat launching ramp.

"EPA has determined that this emergency work should be performed under an EPA Superfund order," said Regional Administrator Mary Gade.

"EPA and MDEQ are working closely together on a thorough and appropriate plan to remove this hot spot," she said. "Moreover, we must be very cautious to make sure, through laboratory tests, that we determine the extent of this high level of contamination. It may be only one additional hot spot or it could cover a larger area."

As a result of EPA Superfund orders in June 2007, Dow is now finishing the cleanup of three dioxin hot spots in the Tittabawassee River. Those dioxin hot spots along the first six miles of the Tittabawassee River were contaminated at levels up to 87,000 ppt, far above state and federal action levels. The area also is prone to flooding and erosion which can spread contamination.

People living in parts of Midland and Saginaw counties near the Dow Chemical plant in Midland have higher levels of dioxins in their bodies than a control group of people elsewhere in Michigan, according to a University of Michigan study released in August 2006.

In the Tittabawassee River floodplain near Dow, people had 28 percent higher median levels of total dioxin-like chemicals in their blood than people in a control group 100 miles away.

To add to Dow's environmental woes, the EPA notified the company on Friday that it has found potential clean air and hazardous waste violations at the company's flagship Midland, Michigan facility.

Dow's Midland facility is a 1,900 acre chemical manufacturing plant. Dioxins and furans come from the production of chemicals containing chlorine. Past waste disposal practices, fugitive emissions and incineration at Dow have resulted in dioxin and furan contamination both on-site and off-site.

EPA alleges Dow violated the Clean Air Act by failing to follow regulations aimed at detecting and repairing leaks, as well as failing to conduct a required stack test.

Dow was also allegedly found to be in violation of multiple Resource Conservation and Recovery Act requirements for managing hazardous waste.

"Our investigation of this very large facility spanned eight weeks over a two-year period and included personnel from EPA's National Enforcement Investigation Center, said Gade.

She said Dow's alleged clean air violations may have increased public exposure to organic hazardous air pollutant emissions including, but not limited to, ethyl chloride, toluene, ethylene, perchloroethylene, methanol and hydrogen chloride.

Hazardous air pollutants may cause serious health effects including birth defects and cancer and may also cause harmful environmental and ecological effects. The EPA says these pollutants are also volatile organic compounds and are major precursors of ground-level ozone, or smog.

These are preliminary findings of violations. To resolve them, EPA may issue a compliance order, assess an administrative penalty or bring suit against the company. Dow has 30 days from receipt of the notice to meet with EPA to discuss resolving the allegations.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2007. All rights reserved.

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