Researchers testing area for dioxin
Kathie Marchlewski , The Midland Daily News


Since the Tittabawassee River is laced with dioxin, it’s likely that wildlife in and around the flood plain also has traces of the contaminant in their bodies. A team of researchers from Michigan State University, with a $326,000 grant from The Dow Chemical Co., is finding out.

Oats and peanut butter are used to lure moles, voles and shrews into live traps. A boat emitting electrical currents stuns fish for netting and bright lights shone on white sheets attract insects which are collected with a vacuum.

Along with testing the samples for dioxin, scientists also will be looking for DDT and its metabolites, PCBs and chlorobenzene in the bodies of the specimens.

"This is kind of a probing study," researcher Matt Zwiernik said. "We’re going to look at a lot of chemicals and see where they accumulate."

To collect samples affected by varying levels of contaminants, 35-by-35-meter areas have been roped off at three points in and along the river. An upriver Sanford location is likely to have little dioxin, a site near the Dow plant is expected to have a moderate level. Near Saginaw, a public park is known to have high levels of the toxin.

The objective is to examine the food chain and determine what links potentially carry dioxin to larger species such as bald eagles, mink, blue heron and osprey.

The data MSU collects will not determine if dioxin has harmed wildlife; it will only identify exposure pathways.

The MSU research may not be directly applicable to the work Dow must submit to the state as a requirement of the off-site corrective plans built into its hazardous waste facility operating license, said DEQ senior geologist Al Taylor, but it will provide additional data not yet collected from river areas.
"We’ve got a pretty good idea of what’s happening on the aquatic side," Taylor said. "We don’t have samples of terrestrial mammals."

The DEQ recently completed a risk assessment of larger fish from the river and has determined that dioxin exists within their bodies. "There is an accumulation, it is a problem," Taylor said. The results of that assessment, in progress since 2001, will be released by the DEQ early in October.

Sampling and testing of carp, catfish, walleye and small-mouth bass won’t be duplicated in MSU efforts, Zwiernik said. The newest aquatic studies will be conducted on forage fish, those smaller than 20 centimeters, which are eaten by belted king fishers and blue heron.

"Small fish sometimes have higher levels (of dioxin) than larger fish," he said.
Results of the testing are expected to be complete by February and March.

Taylor said Dow, with help from a Lansing-based contractor, also is working on a full risk assessment on turkeys and animals, which will be conducted on a speedier timeline than the ecological assessment.
"People eat these animals, it is potentially a significant exposure pathway," Taylor said.

İMidland Daily News 2003

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