State's proposed deal with Dow falls apart

By Mike Tyree
The Associated Press
12/27/02 6:05 PM


TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) -- Midland resident Diane Hebert couldn't contain her enthusiasm Friday upon learning of the demise of a widely criticized, state-brokered deal with Dow Chemical Co.

"I am just thrilled," said Hebert, among area residents and environmentalists who sued to prevent the state Department of Environmental Quality and Dow from cutting a deal to raise allowable dioxin contamination levels nine-fold in Midland. "This wasn't good for the public in any way."

The proposed deal -- a consent order pushed by top DEQ officials in the twilight of Republican Gov. John Engler's administration -- fell apart Friday afternoon when Dow wouldn't accept modified language demanded by the state attorney general's office.

"We notified the MDEQ we didn't intend to enter into the consent order," said John Phillips, a spokesman for the Midland-based company. "We just couldn't get this completed this year."

Critics blasted the proposal since a draft was released in early November. It would have provided for "site specific" dioxin contamination standards in Midland of 831 parts per trillion, as opposed to the state's current 90 parts per trillion standard.

Dioxin contamination from the Midland plant also exists in higher concentrations along a 20-mile stretch of the Tittabawassee River floodplain downstream from Midland.

Soil samples indicate that most of the contamination around the plant site, including some residential areas, falls between 90 and 831 parts per trillion. Dow would have avoided potentially huge cleanup costs under the consent order language.

Plan opponents also contended that a health study proposed by Dow was a veiled attempt to gloss over legitimate dioxin health contamination concerns.

DEQ Director Russell Harding, whose term ends Monday, defended the proposed plan.

"While it continues to be my belief that a consent order to address the dioxin contamination in Midland is the appropriate solution, it has become impossible at this late date to prepare a final document that not only complies with the environmental statute, but also reflects the substantive comments received from all parties," he said.

Some DEQ staffers criticized the plan, however, as well as officials with the state Department of Community Health. Officials in both departments authored reports and memos pointing out flaws and potential illegalities, but those documents were withheld from the public record, state officials said.

Also, the state attorney general's office repeatedly criticized the proposed consent order as illegal. Attorney general's spokesman Greg Bird said the DEQ offered a modified consent order Monday, and after discussions early Friday with Dow and DEQ, another document was to be submitted Friday.

Instead, the deal died.

Phillips wouldn't discus the company's specific problems with the modified proposed order, but said Dow looks forward to working with new DEQ administration, headed by Steven Chester, Democratic Gov.-elect Jennifer Granholm's choice for director.

Traverse City attorney Chris Bzdok, who represented the plaintiffs in the suit against Dow and DEQ, said he will now drop the case.

"We're still going to keep a careful eye on the process and the dioxin in Midland," he said.