Dow-funded report claims dioxin poses no threat
Report comes as EPA reconsiders dioxin limits and protections
By Eartha Jane Melzer | 02.02.11 | 8:29 am

People living on the dioxin contaminated area should not worry about absorbing the cancer-causing chemical from their surroundings, a Dow Chemical-funded report said last week.

Since 2003 the University of Michigan Dioxin Exposure Study has received funding from Dow to study dioxin exposure among people who live in areas contaminated by the company’s Midland plant.

“People whose houses are on contaminated soil or who have contaminated dust in their homes do not have higher levels of dioxin in their blood,” the study’s latest report states. “People eating fish from the Tittabawassee River, Saginaw River and Saginaw Bay do not have higher levels of dioxins in their blood.”

These findings are a reversal of those reported by the group in 2006 and are based on a reanalysis of previously collected data, the authors say.

The report has received widespread media coverage in the area, and the Midland Daily News reports that a four-page summary of the study results will be mailed to 117,000 residential addresses in Midland and Saginaw counties.

“I doubt if the public will comprehend the changes, particularly in reference to fish eating,“ said Saginaw County Medical Director Dr. Neill Varner.

Varner said that he found it odd that the report states that those who go fishing on the contaminated waters have elevated dioxin levels but people who eat the fish do not.

Varner said that he is waiting on a clarification from the UMDES researchers.

It’s important that people understand the risks of eating fish from the areas downstream from Dow, he said.

“The practice is not a healthful one,” he said, “and is one that could damage them beyond repair.”

“The new report is clearly intended to influence public opinion,” said Dr. Ted Schettler, science director for Science and Environmental Health Network.

Schettler said that the report is “outside the scientific norm” because it does not fully explain how it reanalyzed the data to come up with the new conclusions.

“EPA and state public health agencies need to carefully review this brochure and if they find wording that is misleading or troublesome,” he said, “they need to set it right.”

Responding to the report should be a priority for public health agencies, he said, because people are deciding how to act on the information.

Dow has an interest in how dioxin is perceived in the region. The chemical giant is facing a class action suit by residents of the contaminated floodplain and is in the limit dioxin exposure for people who live in the contaminated Tittabawassee floodplain.

In media interviews UMDES lead researcher David Garabrant has insisted that researchers have complete independence from Dow, but a copy of the contract between Dow and the University, obtained by Michigan Messenger, shows that the university promised to allow Dow to preview all communications about the study.

In 2009 an EPA analysis of the Dioxin Exposure Study said that it is of “limited value” because it did not examine dioxin exposure among children and did not adequately sample highly contaminated properties and people who eat fish and game from the contaminated area.

EPA has not responded to the latest report from the study.

Michigan Dept. of Community Health toxicologist Linda Dykema said that state health officials do not plan to respond to the report.

“We feel EPA has already analyzed it,” she said. “We prefer to focus our time and effort on public health efforts.”

Among the agency’s plans for the year is a program to teach elementary school students about safe fishing and how dioxin and other persistent chemicals can bioaccumulate in the aquatic food chain.


Showing 2 comments

Neill D varner 18 hours ago

The concern about eating fish from the Tittabawassee River stems from the multitude of contaminants present in the waters and sediment there....These are not limited to dioxin -like compounds but include other things like heavy metals and other health-destroying chemicals which provide a brew for disease in those who eat fish from the waters...Michigan Fish Advisories remain a good source for information.

crackbaby 10 hours ago

The interpretations of data from a poorly-designed corporate funded boondoggle "study" conducted by researchers supported by the company that created the problem in the first place should be taken for what they are: political opinions designed to ensure continued funding.

Basing background levels of dioxin on individuals living in Jackson County is just one of the problems with the study. Jackson County, MI has a large garbage incinerator, lots of residences with burn barrels, and several other industrial sources of dioxin and dioxin-like compounds. For example, one of the steel manufacturers in Jackson released nearly 9 grams of dioxin and dioxin-like compounds from their stacks from 2007-2009. The rural nature of Jackson County also lends itself to people burning wastes in barrels - one of the largest sources of dioxin to the environment. If one wants to play down contamination in one area, it pays to use contaminated zones for background comparisons since that minimizes the difference between experimental populations and control cohorts. See people, no diff!

Moreover, as Neill Varner writes above, the Tittabawassee River contains far more than dioxin. Sediments at the Dow facility and downstream contain a veritable witches brew of poisons including nerve toxins like methyl parathion (an insecticide), heavy metals such as mercury and arsenic, and a host of other industrial solvents, waste materials, and toxic chemicals. Basing overall risk to the environment and human health solely on a subset of dioxin congeners ignores the cumulative actions of these poisons on living organisms, including people.

The Dow Chemical Company is one of the most powerful entities in Michigan and that is the single most important reason university types will not face them down with facts and truth. The fact that the University of Michigan has decided to tar its otherwise stellar reputation by supporting this pseudostudy and the load of BS that comes out of the UM research team supported by Dow is testimony to the power of corporations and greed and is sad, indeed.

The only way that Dow and its bought and paid-for politicians and academics can fight the fact that the company has poisoned so much of the state is by appealing to the lowest level of intelligence out there. There will definitely be plenty of fools who choose to continue to eat contaminated fish and live in areas contaminated by Dow; it's those individuals and their families that are unable to move away or have to eat fish for sustenance that I'm worried about. And let's not even discuss the wildlife issue since its clear wildlife continue to be poisoned without knowing it.

What a shame that the once great State of Michigan has become so polluted and so contaminated with corporate money and influence that it looks more and more like a third world country and less like the United States of America.

Saginaw Bay Sushi anyone?

For additional articles like this one, go to the Tittabawassee River Watch web site 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.