EPA proposes landscaping as dioxin solution
01/17/11 8:16 AM|Eartha Jane Melzer|Michigan Messenger

A U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposal to reduce dioxin exposure for people who live downstream from Dow Chemical by spreading gravel on contaminated yards and building raised garden beds is being called “insulting” by some residents.

Dioxin, a highly toxic and cancer-causing chemical that was a byproduct of chemical manufacturing at Dow Chemical’s Midland complex, has spread 52 miles down the Tittabawassee and Saginaw Rivers and into Lake Huron’s Saginaw Bay. Clean up of the immense contaminated zone is expected to take a decade.

In June 2009 the EPA promised to take swift action to reduce exposure to dioxin at areas within the floodplain that are both highly contaminated and frequently used.

In a document released by the agency last week EPA is asking the public to comment on three options for actions that could be undertaken by Dow Chemical — do nothing, apply control barriers, or move land features such as fire pits or garden beds.

EPA spokeswoman Jayna Legg said that the agency is looking at 260 properties and has no count of the people who live there.

John Taylor, a 63 year old former telephone company technician who was forced to retire early due to health problems that he associates with the contamination around his home, said that EPA approach to the problem is “insulting.”

“From the view where I am sitting as a victim of this tragedy and corruption, this is one of the most outlandish ideas I have ever heard. Any ground covering would have to be a minimum of 3 ‘ deep at the shallowest point next to my home to possibly 12' deep next to the river. I have almost 400' of river frontage.”

Dow would have to install new land and raise his home and barn in order to protect his family from the rivers dioxin-laden sediments, he said.

Taylor said that the contaminated floodplain should be put on the National Priorities or Superfund list and residents should be given the option of relocating.

Former floodplain resident Kathy Henry said that EPA’s plan to address only areas of bare soil will not protect residents sufficiently.

“I would like the EPA to explain to me why they think that yards that contain grass no longer allows the contaminated dirt to pose a threat to human health?,” she said. “I mowed a 3 acre river front property for 24 years, and believe me, the dust/dirt flew everywhere when I did.”

Henry said that the EPA/Dow plan offers no protection for pets, who no doubt don’t know the difference between ‘safe play areas’, and contaminated ones.

The barriers that EPA and Dow propose to install around homes in the floodplain may be more effective for adults than for children, said Saginaw County medical director Dr. Neill Varner .

“Children who are around dirt and play in the grass and then put their fingers in their mouths may escape that assurance,” he said.

Varner said that the most effective way to reduce dioxin exposure would be to remove the contaminated soil and store it in an isolated and secure spot.

Cheryl Howe, a environmental engineering specialist with the Michigan Dept. of Natural Resources and Environment said that the actions proposed by EPA are similar to actions that the state of Michigan required Dow to implement on Tittabawassee River residents’ properties starting in 2005.

The state was in charge of cleanup until EPA took over in 2009.

“Under the EPA proposal,” Howe said via-email, “Dow will have an affirmative obligation to maintain and monitor the interim actions, whereas maintenance previously was only done upon the residents’ requests (e.g., after spring flooding).”

Howe said that data collected by the state during investigations of the contaminated zone will help EPA and Dow focus on addressed the areas that are most highly contaminated.

EPA will hold a public meeting about the plan on Wednesday, January 19, 6:30 p.m. at Saginaw Valley State University , Curtiss Hall, Seminar Room D-G, 7400 Bay Road, Saginaw


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.