Waves of frustration, moments of valuable public dioxin feedback
Kathie Marchlewski , The Midland Daily News


Between waves of angry emotion that have become common at meetings about dioxin contamination along the Tittabawassee River, information critical to the cleanup is revealed.

"We’re hoping to find gems (of information) that we can use," said George Bruchmann, chief of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality Hazardous Materials Division.

At the first of two community meetings to gather input on The Dow Chemical Co.’s plan for contamination cleanup, residents concerned about the Tittabawassee River flood plain – between demands for apologies, requests to be evacuated and some profanity – brought up new matters the DEQ will consider when evaluating what steps it should require of the company.

Dow officials expressed disappointment in the meeting at Swan Valley High School, with representatives saying they had hoped for more constructive comments to aid in their efforts.

"We were surprised in how the meeting turned out," said Susan Carrington, Dow director for sustainable development. "We had hoped for suggestions on how to improve our proposed plans. Instead, we heard the same attacks from the plaintiffs (in the lawsuit by river-side property owners) and activists. Clearly, name-calling and profanity are not constructive."

Residents have questions about how the dioxin will affect property values and their health and they want action taken quickly. Frustration was evident as they accused Dow of evading questions and avoiding expensive cleanup.

Residents said more information needs to be dispersed to the community. While some contaminated parks have kiosks packed with information about dioxin, there are areas of the river that aren’t officially considered parks, but are frequently used for fishing, playing and swimming.

"My skin crawls when I see people fish there for hours," said Martha Stimpson, who took matters into her own hands and built a stand for pamphlets that is placed at a publicly used spot near the river.
Questions about property sales disclosures prompted the DEQ to note that local real estate agents should be aware of the contamination and address transactions accordingly.

A daycare facility that operates in the flood plain and municipal utility projects that turn up contaminated soil during construction or repair also are being red-flagged by the state.

The input will be used as the agency reviews Dow’s Scope of Work, the outline of remediation plans that are a requirement of its new hazardous waste management operating license.

"We’re looking for Dow to provide a range of responses to affected citizenry," said Al Taylor, senior geologist at the DEQ Hazardous Waste Division.

He said the DEQ is prioritizing concerns so that Dow will address "the worst first" in its quest to limit dioxin exposure.

That’s what the company plans to do, Carrington assured.

"Dow remains unwavering in its commitment to step up to the plate and do what’s right," she said.
The DEQ expects the company to speed up efforts, and calls the existing timeline for resolutions "unacceptable." However, it acknowledges the cleanup process, because of its size, will take time. A PCB problem near Kalamazoo was discovered in the 1970s and efforts there are still under way.

While interim actions to limit Tittabawassee River dioxin exposure already are being implemented, Dow has to use caution as it proceeds, Carrington said.

"There is no quick fix," she said, adding that action has to be taken at the right times so the company "makes things better, not worse."

So far, the chemical company has placed information and handwashing stations at contaminated public parks to limit hand-to-mouth dioxin ingestion, and there are plans to build walls and decks along river banks to keep pedestrians from kicking up contaminated dust.

Ecological studies under way by a Michigan State University team will aid in future remediation plans.
Public comments on Dow’s plans to remedy contamination will be accepted by the DEQ until Oct. 10. The entire Scope of Work outline and more information about dioxin can be viewed at www.michigan.gov/tittabawassee.
Send comments to Cheryl Howe, Waste and Hazardous Materials Division, Department of Environmental Quality, P.O. Box 30241, Lansing, MI 48909-7741 or e-mail howec.@michigan.gov.

Midland Daily News 2003

For additional articles like this one, go to the Tittabawasse 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 contributing 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 clicking on the Newspaper/Media link.