EPA official cites Dow in quitting

Saturday, May 03, 2008

A deposed government official and conservationists say her departure is the result of corporate and political leaders playing dirty over dioxin pollution involving Dow Chemical Co.

Mary Gade, regional administrator of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 5, told the Chicago Tribune she resigned after two of the organization's top officials stripped her of her powers and told her to quit or face firing by Sunday, June 1.

''There is no question this is about Dow,'' Gade said. ''I stand behind what I did and what my staff did. I'm proud of what we did.''

Jonathan Shradar, an EPA spokesman in Washington, said officials put Gade on administrative leave until June 1. He declined further comment.

Dow Chemical spokesman John Musser said Gade's departure came as a surprise. He said the Midland-based chemical company would rather work with the federal government than with state officials the agency designated to oversee future dioxin cleanup.

''Flatly, we never asked or implied that Ms. Gade be removed from her post,'' Musser said. ''We have no idea what the EPA's reason was for this move.''

Terry Miller, chairman of the Bay City-based environmental group Lone Tree Council, believes Gade was ''too aggressive'' for some.

''She was the consummate professional and someone committed to doing the job the EPA was supposed to be doing, and that's cleaning up the environment,'' said Miller, an adjunct professor of history at Delta College.

Miller said politics became a factor because Dow is one of the Tri-Cities' largest employers and half-owner of Dow Corning Corp., whose subsidiary, Hemlock Semiconductor Corp. in Thomas Township, is in the midst of $1 billion expansion.

Hundreds of jobs are tied up with the polycrystalline silicon project, which produces material used in solar panels and electronics.

''The economics of Michigan is playing a role in the deterioration of our environment,'' Miller said.

Dow and government regulators have debated for months about how to cleanse a swath of waters and wetlands that now reaches 50 miles from Dow's plant in Midland to Lake Huron.

The company has acknowledged tainting the Tittabawassee and the adjoining Saginaw River, their flood plains, portions of the city of Midland and Lake Huron's Saginaw Bay with dioxins -- chemical byproducts believed to cause cancer and damage reproductive and immune systems.

''It's unfortunate politics got in the way,'' Miller said.

Saginaw County Chamber of Commerce Executive Vice President Veronica Horn said ''she doesn't buy that allegation.''

''(Gade) has been working on this since the beginning, and now all of a sudden she is being forced out?'' Horn said. ''I have been working very closely with Dow, the (Department of Environmental Quality) and the EPA on the dioxin issue and I have never, ever heard Dow advocate anybody's removal.

''The company has been more than willing to work with whoever has been assigned to them.''

Miller believes lawmakers had a hand in Gade's departure.

''It takes a while for political machinations to occur,'' he said.

Horn said such reasoning ''doesn't make sense.''

''The EPA isn't commenting, she was placed on administrative leave and chose to resign, so anything else would be speculation,'' she said.

Bob Van Deventer, president of the Saginaw County Chamber of Commerce, said local leaders are trying to fight the perception that dioxin makes the area unsafe. He argued that ''not one illness'' is attributable to dioxin and insisted the only way someone could become exposed to it is if they ''eat the dirt.''

''Michigan is in the tank economically already,'' Van Deventer said. ''For us, this situation certainly creates more uncertainty as long as it remains unresolved.''

Gade is a former corporate attorney who led the Illinois EPA under Republican Gov. Jim Edgar. President Bush appointed her in 2006 to head the federal agency's Region 5, which covers the states of Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio. v

Paul Wyche covers business for The Saginaw News. You may reach him at 776-9674. The Chicago Tribune contributed to this report.

2008 Saginaw News

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