Dioxin suit status up to judge

Monday, June 23, 2003


A Saginaw County circuit judge will decide whether to certify a class of residents who are suing Dow Chemical Co. on the issue of dioxin.

Dow attorney Kathy Lange argued today before Chief Circuit Judge Leopold P. Borrello that the company should have six months to examine statements from the plaintiffs regarding the level of dioxin on their property.

The plaintiff's attorney, Jan P. Helder, is calling Dow's move a delay tactic. Helder argued that if Dow examines the record of the plaintiffs, then the plaintiffs should also review Dow's documents regarding what the company knew about dumping the chemical in the Tittabawassee River.

Borello did not give a time frame on when he will rule whether to make it a class action.

Helder said even if the judge does not rule for a class action, each plaintiff will go to court individually

The list of plaintiffs claiming that Dow contaminated their property has grown to 179, Helder said.

In March, homeowners along a 22-mile stretch of the Tittabawassee filed suit seeking class-action status.

The plaintiffs are seeking reimbursement on claims that dioxin has led to declining property values and threatened their health.

Kansas-based-attorney Helder said the class could involve the 2,000 property owners who have lived along the river since 1984.

The property owners and residents have chosen to stand up and fight Dow for polluting their homes and back yards with highly dangerous amounts of dioxin, Helder said.

Dow officials have called the suit baseless. Last month, the company submitted a response saying there is no proof that excessive dioxin levels exist in the plaintiffs' yards.

Dioxins are highly toxic by-products of manufacturing and incineration systems, and may cause cancer, birth defects and other health problems in humans.

Helder has said the property owners' homes are "worthless."

The plaintiffs own homes each valued "in the high five figures to low six figures," he said.

The plaintiffs are seeking payments from Dow for lost property value. They also are seeking punitive damages and a trust fund that would pay for medical care, dioxin research and a lifetime of medical testing.

Dioxin-tainted wastewater from Dow drained for decades into the Tittabawassee and spilled onto adjoining property during periodic floods, the suit says. However, agreements with the state have released Dow from civil liability for the contamination, Helder said.

Soil samples taken throughout the flood plain south of Dow's Midland complex two years ago revealed dioxin levels as high as 80 times the state level that can trigger a cleanup.

Darryl Q. Tucker covers courts for The Saginaw News. You may reach him at 776-9686.

© 2003 Saginaw News. Used with permission