Dow Chemical ordered to clean up area in Michigan near its headquarters High levels of dioxin found

By Michael Hawthorne | Chicago Tribune reporter 10:40 PM CDT, May 28, 2008

Federal officials Wednesday ordered Dow Chemical to clean up high levels of dioxin recently discovered in homes and yards in a Saginaw, Mich., neighborhood downstream from the company's world headquarters.

Preliminary results from tests conducted in March by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found dioxin levels in household dust and outdoor soil that were well above the federal cleanup standard. The amount in a sample taken from one yard was 23 times higher than what the EPA considers reasonably safe.

The new order is a result of aggressive action taken against Dow by the EPA's former top official in the Midwest, Mary Gade, who told the Tribune last month that the Bush administration forced her out as head of the agency's Chicago-based office over heated disputes between the chemical company and environmental regulators.

It marks the first time that federal officials have forced a dioxin cleanup in a residential area near Dow's sprawling Midland, Mich., chemical plant. The EPA issued four similar orders last year, three for industrial areas and another along a public park.

Related links What's next Before Gade stepped in, cleanup had been minimal. The most extensive work, negotiated by the state, had involved scouring the interiors of 300 homes and spreading wood chips over contaminated soil outside.

Earlier this year, Gade surprised Dow officials and local residents when she ordered new tests in residential areas downstream from the company's plant. The results disclosed Wednesday showed high dioxin levels in and around a stretch of homes about 20 miles from the plant, near where the Tittabawassee and Saginaw Rivers meet.

One sample of household dust had dioxin levels of 3,000 parts per trillion, three times more than the federal cleanup standard. Levels in the yards were as high as 23,000 parts per trillion and averaged 2,000 parts per trillion.

"This highlights why it is so important for the agencies to keep holding Dow accountable for its actions," Gade said Wednesday.

For most of the last century, the company dumped dioxin-laden waste into rivers that stretch for 50 miles into Saginaw Bay and Lake Huron. Clean-up efforts have been delayed by legal wrangling by Dow, which for years insisted it wasn't responsible.

Company officials still contend dioxin-contaminated soil and sediment doesn't threaten people or wildlife. At the same time, they say the company is prepared to restore polluted areas, but they disagree with state and federal officials about how the project should be carried out.

"We've said all along that if there are things that need immediate attention we are prepared to deal with that," spokesman John Musser said.

Dioxin was a manufacturing byproduct of the herbicide Agent Orange and other chemicals manufactured by Dow. EPA officials say it causes cancer and disrupts the immune and reproductive systems, even at very low levels.

Federal and state officials met with Dow executives Wednesday to discuss how the cleanup will proceed.

"We want rapid action in that neighborhood to minimize potential exposure," said Ralph Dollhopf, associate director of the EPA's regional Superfund office.,0,7252768.story

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