The group that represents American chemical manufacturers wants the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to back off criticisms of a Dow Chemical-funded dioxin exposure study conducted by researchers at U-M’s school of public health.

The American Chemistry Council (ACC) is a powerful advocate for chemical manufacturers and spent nearly $5 million on lobbying in 2009, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Dow Chemical is a member of the ACC.

mimsg_dowontittabawasseeriver-300x193Dioxin, a byproduct of the chemical manufacturing process, is among the most toxic substances known, and the areas downstream from Dow Chemical’s Midland complex are among the most heavily contaminated in the country.

Dow has spent millions on research that it says should inform cleanup decisions at the contaminated site, but state and federal environmental agencies have found that the research is of limited use when it comes to figuring out how to best respond to the contamination.

The University of Michigan’s Dioxin Exposure Study (UMDES) took soil, household dust and blood from people living in and around the Tittabawassee and Saginaw River floodplain and compared the dioxin levels with samples taken in another community 100 miles away.

In widely publicized presentations, lead researcher Dr. David Garabrant has claimed that the study shows that there is no relationship between living on contaminated ground and blood dioxin levels.

However, in publicly funded reviews of the study, the Michigan Dept. of Environmental Quality and the federal EPA found that it did not focus enough on people who live in the most contaminated areas, it included no information on how much dioxin children absorb, and it didn’t focus on people who are exposed to dioxin in other ways, such as eating fish from the Tittabawasee and Saginaw Rivers.

The agencies have also expressed concerns that the study was confusing people about the seriousness of the pollution and the need to ameliorate it.

In a Dec. 22 letter to EPA officials, David B. Fischer, Assistant General Counsel for the Chlorine Chemistry Division of the American Chemistry Council, insisted that EPA should use the UMDES in its regulatory decisions on dioxin, saying that the study “offers a treasure trove of data to inform EPA’s ongoing dioxin reassessment, interim Preliminary Remediation Goals, and other dioxin related regulatory activities.”

The chemical group criticized EPA’s review of the study, calling it “scientifically and procedurally flawed.”

The group said that EPA’s dismissal of the study “exemplifies the findings of a recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report that noted deficiencies in EPA’s ability to interpret and utilize exposure data in risk assessment.”

By failing to allow peer review of its own review, the industry group wrote, EPA’s “process was also contrary to Administration and Agency commitments to transparency and scientific integrity.”

“[Chlorine Council] urges [EPA] to substantively revise the Review through a transparent process of external peer review and meaningful opportunity for public input.”

EPA, public health experts respond

“If we determine that any of the ACC comments are substantive enough to affect the Agency’s analysis of the University of Michigan Dioxin Exposure Study we will revise our report accordingly,“ EPA spokeswoman Tisha Petteway said via e-mail. “However, the Agency’s analysis of the University of Michigan Dioxin Exposure Study was not a draft for public review; it is a final report.”

Public health experts are reacting strongly to the ACC’s criticism, accusing them of defending the vested interests of their members at the expense of public safety and well being.

Richard Clapp, professor at the Boston University School of Public Health, said that the ACC letter reads like a document filed on behalf of defendants in a lawsuit.

“It makes the kinds of arguments and selective presentation of facts that defense attorneys make in asking a judge to throw out evidence and give a summary judgment to their side of a dispute,” Clapp said.

“This continues a long tradition of the American Chemistry Council, and before that the Chlorine Chemistry Council, trying to disrupt the EPA reassessment of dioxin. They have succeeded in dragging out and manufacturing uncertainty about how toxic it is to humans for over fifteen years and this recent correspondence … is just the latest effort in that regard.”

“This is an attempt again by the industry folks to create a distraction and require more review of info by EPA,“ said Stephen Lester, a scientist with the Center for Health Environment and Justice. “They will never be satisfied with the degree of review conducted by EPA.”

“That is their pattern of behavior for nearly 25 years now. A continual pattern of behavior to not be satisfied with anything the agency does.”

Lester said that EPA has the right to review documents and to use them as it sees fit.

He said that he is encouraged that the Obama EPA seems to be keeping its promises when it comes to addressing dioxin.