EPA abruptly ends river cleanup negotiations with Dow
01/05/2008
By Tony Lascari, Midland Daily News

The federal government has ended negotiations with The Dow Chemical Co. that aimed to resolve dioxin contamination in the Tittabawassee River system.

Talks had been under way to create plans for a study and interim cleanup actions, but Dow wasn't offering enough, said Ralph Dollhopf, associate director for the Superfund Division of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 5 Office in Chicago.

"Key issues that are paramount for protecting human health and the environment remain unresolved," he said. "EPA simply will not accept any deal that is not comprehensive."

EPA spokeswoman Anne Rowan said an explanation of those "key issues" is not available because the negotiations were covered by confidentiality agreements.

David Kepler, Dow's senior vice president, said the company cannot understand EPA Regional Administrator Mary A. Gade's decision to terminate negotiations so abruptly.

"We were prepared to commit immense human and financial resources on early, comprehensive actions, all in full compliance with EPA guidance and regulations," he said.

Kepler said the company rejects the EPA's characterization of its submitted plans.

"This was a real opportunity to actually accelerate resolving the situation; now we're faced with additional barriers and delays," he said.

Dow spokesman John Musser said the EPA's decision to end negotiations came on the day Dow was preparing a follow-up offer.

In October, the two parties began a 60-day period of discussion that was extended on Dec. 10 to resolve remaining issues and reach a final agreement. Dow expected to have until Jan. 9 to finalize the deal, but the end of the negotiations was announced Friday afternoon by the EPA.

"We offered continuously to have further discussions on the proposals and to meet with the regional staff and to meet with the administrator herself, but we didn't get much opportunity to actually do that," Musser said.

Rowan said the end of negotiations is not a setback for the cleanup process.

"We're disappointed, but work is going to continue," she said. "We're committed to seeing that the contamination issues in the Midland area, the Tittabawassee River and the Saginaw River are resolved."

The EPA will continue meetings with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to decide how to proceed.

MDEQ spokesman Bob McCann said more progress on cleanup efforts is needed in the coming year.

"We want to make sure, whatever the next steps are, that we make sure to continue the progress that we have made in the area," he said.

MDEQ was represented at the discussions between Dow and the EPA, but only to make sure the state's interests were represented, McCann said.

"In the past we've also expressed concerns about submittals Dow has made," he said of separate talks between Dow and the MDEQ, but the focus now is to look to the future.

Dow is still committed to work with the agencies to solve the dioxin contamination issues in a timely way that addresses all of the concerns, Musser said.

"Aside from being disappointed and surprised, we feel this is a missed opportunity to accelerate things," he said. "This would have been a nice document to have for 2008 ... As it is, we're back to the existing process."

Michelle Hurd Riddick of the local environmental group Lone Tree Council said she was not surprised that the EPA felt Dow's offer did not go far enough.

"For years on the Tittabawassee River Dow has not done enough," she said. "They have stalled, they have delayed, they have complicated the process."

The question now is what enforcement and cleanup actions will occur in the future, she said.

"Amid all the philanthropy, the best thing Dow can do is give us back a clean river," she said.

The target area begins upstream of Dow's Michigan Operations site in Midland and extends downstream to the Saginaw River, its floodplains and Saginaw Bay in Lake Huron.

Dioxins and furans are byproducts from the manufacture of chlorine-based products. Past waste disposal practices, fugitive emissions and incineration at Dow have resulted in on- and off-site dioxin and furan contamination.
 


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