EPA misses dioxin deadlines

 By Eartha Jane Melzer, The Michigan Messenger
 | 01.07.11 | 8:02 am

 Dioxin science report and interim cleanup levels have been delayed

In May 2009 newly appointed U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Director Lisa Jackson called Dow Chemical’s contamination of the Saginaw River watershed a threat to public health and promised to kick start the agency’s long-delayed efforts to regulate dioxin. The agency has now missed the deadlines it set for action.

Dioxin, a by-product of combustion and of the chemical manufacturing process, is one of the most toxic substances known and causes immune system and reproductive problems at extremely small doses.

Operations at Dow Chemical’s Midland complex have spread high levels of dioxin and other chemicals through the Tittabawassee and Saginaw Rivers and into Lake Huron’s Saginaw Bay and regular flooding has deposited dioxin-laden sediments at homes, schools, parks and farms throughout the floodplain.

Although the contamination has been known for decades, state and federal efforts to clean it up have been hampered by lawsuits and lobbying by the chemical giant.

In late 2008, acting on a request from Dow, EPA took over primary responsibility for enforcing cleanup in the Saginaw River watershed.

When President Obama took office and a team of top EPA officials came to Michigan and met with community groups in the Saginaw area, some locals held out hope that the agency would fast track a cleanup.

In a May 26, 2009 letter to local groups [which has been removed from EPA’s website] EPA director Lisa Jackson called the pollution “a threat to public health in the communities in the area, to the vibrancy and diversity of the ecosystem, and to economic development” and said that addressing the contamination was one of EPA’s highest priorities.

Jackson announced that the agency’s long-delayed reassessment of the toxicity of dioxin would be released in its final form by the end of 2010.

At a Saginaw public meeting in June 2009, EPA special counsel Robert Sussman said the agency would create new stricter guidance for dioxin cleanup even before the completion of the official dioxin reassessment.

Sussman called the current EPA dioxin cleanup standard of 1,000 parts per trillion “out of date” and promised that the agency would produce reports on dioxin toxicity and cleanup standards by the end of 2009.

On New Year’s Eve 2009 EPA called for public comments on a plan to change the preliminary remediation goals for dioxin in residential soil from the current federal level of 1,000 parts per trillion (ppt) to 72 ppt. The agency also recommended that dioxin remediation goals for commercial/industrial soil will be changed from 5,000-20,000 ppt to 950 ppt.

[Dioxin levels as high as 1.6 million ppt have been measured in the Saginaw River.]

“While EPA works to complete the dioxin reassessment, this interim guidance will help us make better informed decisions on cleanup alternatives at contaminated sites,” said Mathy Stanislaus, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response. “We are following through on our commitment to use the best available science to help protect human health and the environment.”

The agency said that the interim guidelines could go into effect in June 2010.

Environmental groups celebrated EPA’s announcement but the American Chemical Council objected to the establishment of interim cleanup levels and asked EPA to extended its comment period on them. The ACC also asked EPA to wait to specify clean up levels until after the completion of its dioxin assessment.

In March 2010 EPA consented to the industry request that they extend the comment period on the interim cleanup goals.

More than a year after it was proposed, this guidance not yet been put into effect and the dioxin reassessment that was supposed to be finalized by the end of 2010 also seems unlikely to be released soon.

On Wednesday EPA officials said that the agency’s Science Advisory Board is still conducting its review of the draft report on dioxin toxicity.

The agency is waiting to receive the final report from the SAB and expects it mid-year, officials said, and once the final report is received, EPA will address the SAB’s comments.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics Dow spent more that 12 million dollars on lobbying since EPA announced its push to finish the dioxin assessment. View Comments


Showing 2 comments

And who fights to counter Dow's 12 million dollars in influence? To demand public health be first and foremost. Not any governor,legislator or public official to date. 10 years and 4 miles of river have been addressed. The contamination is 104 miles of river bank, 52 miles of river and the Saginaw Bay of Lake Huron. Yet another generation of children will be raised on a highly contaminated floodplain while EPA plays foot loose and fancy free allowing Dow to steer the path forward. Matters not that Dow pimped them so many times in the past. Flag Like ReplyReply Barbara Rubin 9 hours ago

It is completely useless to expect any government agency to reign in corporate polluters because the debate is endless, centering around the apparently controversial position that poison is bad for people. Sorry, our 'bad'.

The only solution is to reveal the extent of exposure and accompanying health defects in our increasingly ill population. However, even as medical care is becoming more accessible to the masses, the tests required to assess toxic exposures to commonly encountered chemicals are not available.

The EPA and CDC have an obligation to provide permits free of charge to all medical labs for the evaluation of any toxic chemical (and their metabolites or break-down products in bodily tissues/fluids) once it is approved for sale. Since the consumer must prove harm in order to have hazardous materials removed from the market place, physicians must be able to make such assessments and track them over time.

It might be a good idea to begin with pesticides, noted by the CDC to be unavoidable by the population at large. (http://armchairactivist.us/201.../)

Barbara Rubin www.armchairactivist.us

For additional articles like this one, go to the Tittabawassee River Watch web site www.trwnews.net for complete coverage of the Tittabawassee River Dow Chemical dioxin contamination saga. . The Newspaper / Media page of our site contains an extensive archive of media articles dating back to January 2002. The source organization's web site link is listed to the right of the article, visit often for other news in our area. The Newspaper / Media page may be accessed by scrolling down to the bottom of the CONTENTS section and clicking on the Newspaper/Media link.