It doesn’t look as though a "dioxin zone" will blanket Midland after all.
One of the key components of a draft consent order between The Dow Chemical Co. and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality was a new level of dioxin more than nine times greater than allowed in the rest of the state’s soil in residential areas. Late Friday afternoon, the DEQ indicated that no longer would happen.
"The 831 number will not be offered," said Jim Sygo, chief of the DEQ’s remediation and redevelopment division, referring to the site-specific criteria the agency previously had negotiated with Dow.
"I think this is coming as part of considering all the (public) comment as well as the attorney general’s comments," Sygo said. The Michigan Attorney General’s office repeatedly advised DEQ officials that drafts of the consent order were illegal on several fronts.
The 831 figure refers to parts per trillion, as in 831 ppt established as an interim level for Midland soil while more study is done. Originally, Dow had requested a number more in the 1,400 ppt range. When the DEQ released the consent order Nov. 7, Sygo noted he expected the number would be adjusted downward as more data became available.
Soil sampling in Midland has indicated a wide range of dioxin levels (see box, A2). There is little information on dioxin contamination in soil in areas immediately adjacent to Michigan Operations, Dow’s Midland manufacturing site, so soil sampling of those neighborhoods also is part of the consent order, which was drafted to address dioxin contamination in Midland.
Neil Hawkins, environmental health and safety leader at Michigan Operations, said discussions between Dow and the DEQ continue, including the site-specific dioxin standard.
"I have not seen (831) removed from the consent order," he said. "(But) I believe the health and exposure study really is the most important part of the consent order. We’ll move forward and will in a most expeditious way address the concerns of the residents."
That health study also has come under fire, primarily because it was proposed by Dow and will be funded by the company. In addition, Dow would have a say in the committees designing and overseeing the study, as would other stakeholders, including the environmental activists who previously asked for a health consultation of the area.
At an Oct. 21 meeting of Tittabawassee River Watch, Linda Dykema, a toxicologist with the Michigan Department of Community Health, said the health study would be offered for public comment soon. Her impression was that a press release had been drafted and was being reviewed. She and other key people at MDCH were unaware the DEQ planned to include the health study in the consent order until the draft document was released.
Environmentalists have blasted the consent order, accusing the DEQ director of cutting a sweetheart deal with Dow in the last days of Republican Gov. John Engler’s administration.
Michelle Hurd Riddick of Lone Tree Council voiced cautious optimism over the decision on the interim dioxin standard.
"I’m absolutely delighted, if this is true," she said. "It demonstrates that citizens still have recourse, still have a voice."
Earlier indications from DEQ staff have been that the consent order would be signed before the current state administration left office Jan. 1. Several environmental groups and citizens sued to block the order and failed, but will be able to appear in court to appeal the signing. In order to take effect, the consent order – so called because it is a negotiated agreement – must be signed by both the DEQ and Dow.
Mike Tyree, Associated Press Writer, contributed to this story.