Ecologist, physician say U-M dioxin study lacks detail, needs further review
Published: Wednesday, February 02, 2011, 1:45 PM
By Lindsay Knake | The Saginaw News

A University of Michigan study says dioxins in the Tittabawassee and Saginaw rivers may not pose many dangers to residents, but others in the science community disagree.

Tracey Easthope, the director of environmental health project at the Ann Arbor-based Ecology Center, said she was surprised tabloids about the study were mailed out to people in the floodplain earlier this week.

“It reads like a public health communication, but it’s just sent by one research team,” she said. “As far as I know, the public health agencies did not see or approve of it before it went out.”

Eastope, who holds a master of public health degree, said it is unusual to see the researcher send out such information.

The U-M study concluded dioxin enters the human body through food, such as contaminated fish from the rivers and meat raised on the floodplain, rather than through contaminated dust and soil.

Dr. David Garabrant, a leader in the study, urges floodplain residents to follow the fish and game advisories from the Michigan Department of Community Health guidelines.

However, living on the floodplain does not increase resident’s blood-dioxin levels, he said.

Easthope said the tabloid and booklet explaining the study, which is available at Saginaw, Midland and Auburn libraries, do not provide enough information about how the researchers conducted the study or how they analyzed the data.

Dr. Ted Schettler, science director of the Science and Environmental Health Network, said the information is premature.

“I don’t think anybody should be drawing any conclusions from the study until scientists review it,” the Ann Arbor-based physician said.

The Michigan Department of Public Health and the Department of Natural Resources and Environment and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are obligated to do an expedited review of the study, he said.

Garabrant said the researchers have written more than 20 scientific papers on the study, which are available at

“The idea that they aren’t available, that’s nonsense,” he said.

Garabrant said the papers address the fish and breastfeeding issues, among others, and most are available through the study website.

A scientific advisory board viewed the study before the university published it, he said.

Mary Draves, Dow Chemical Co. spokeswoman, said the study confirms there is no imminent threat to people in the area living on contaminated soils.

“Our belief is supported not only by this exposure study, but also by decades of our own worker studies and other studies conducted by other governmental agencies (EPA and CDC) in Nitro, West Virginia, Anniston, Alabama and Calcasieu Parish, Louisiana,” she said in a statement. “Our focus remains on working towards resolution of the river issue through implementation of our current agreement with (the EPA and MDEQ).”

Residents in the floodplain should observe the fish and game advisory, Easthope said, and limit their exposure to contaminated soil.

“The only way to clean up the food web is if we have a (river) cleanup,” she said. “People in the region deserve a clean watershed so they can eat cattle raised on the watershed, eat fish from the rivers.”

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.