The Dow Chemical Co. disagrees with allegations that exposure to dioxin has placed the lives and health of Tittabawassee River floodplain homeowners in danger. It also disagrees with claims that homes have been made worthless by the presence of dioxin in the river and its floodplain.
Friday, the company entered its response in Saginaw County Circuit Court to a lawsuit filed in March by 26 property owners wanting Dow to pay for their property and monitor their health, both of which they believe have been compromised by dioxin contamination from past Dow manufacturing processes.
The number of plaintiffs who have joined the suit has grown to 120, Kansas-based attorney for the group, Jan Helder, said. The class-action complaint seeks to represent about 2,000 people who have lived in the floodplain since January 1984.
Dow’s response, filed shortly before the courthouse closed for the weekend, includes a motion to dismiss half the complaint’s counts, including one related to a request for medical monitoring.
"Dow has a very strong belief that this has no merit," Dow spokeswoman Sarah Opperman said of the suit, adding that there is no Michigan precedent to support the filing of a medical claim without the presence of physical injury.
Dow’s reply asserts that no plaintiffs claim they have suffered physical injury from dioxin exposure. Dow also says plaintiffs have not claimed that they have been told by a medical professional that they have or will suffer injury, or have even had testing to determine if dioxin levels exist in their bodies.
There also is no proof that excessive levels of dioxin exist in the plaintiffs’ yards, Dow states in its reply. The residential properties in question have not even been tested, Dow adds.
"While the complaint references repeatedly to the highest of (Michigan Department of Environmental Quality) sampling results, that sample was taken miles away from most plaintiffs’ properties," the reply states. It adds that the highest levels of dioxin contamination were measured at a confluence of rivers affected by a variety of industrial dioxin-generating activities, not all by Dow.
Dow continues its defense against property claims with the argument that the properties located in the flood plain still are valuable.
"All of the information we have indicates that property has continued to sell at, near or above asking prices," said Susan Carrington, director for sustainable development at Michigan Operations.
Helder said Dow’s request to dismiss portions of the suit and deny others was expected.
"It shows Dow’s lack of recognition of the significance of the problem," Helder said.
Dow’s claim that there have been no physical ailments related to dioxin exposure is "preposterous," he said, citing the example of a child living in the floodplain area who was born with a third ear.
Before the case can proceed, a judge will have to give it class-action status, though plaintiffs are planning to pursue the matter individually if necessary, Helder said.