Critics call Dow’s dioxin plan a ‘stall tactic’

Wednesday, August 13, 2003

JEREMIAH STETTLER
THE SAGINAW NEWS

When the dust stirs along the Tittabawassee River, Gary Henry thinks dioxin.

The toxin put an end to family parties along the river and compelled his wife, Kathy, to wear a dust mask when mowing the lawn. "It constantly weighs on us," the Freeland resident said.

Henry, 51, is among the critics of a Dow Chemical Co. report, revealed Tuesday, that outlines plans for dealing with dioxin along the Tittabawassee River.

Henry said the plan calls for too much sampling and too little clean up. "It won’t improve the floodplain one bit," he said. "The pollution is there and it is down deep. This (report) doesn’t show how Dow is going to fix it. It shows how they are going to test it, even though the DEQ has already proven dioxin is there."

Environmentalists agree. They say Dow is battling dioxin with stall tactics rather than cleanup crews.

"This is a significant public health issue and Dow needs to treat it accordingly," said Michelle Hurd-Riddick, a member of the Lone Tree Council, an environmental watchdog group. "I don’t think Dow does it in this ‘scope of work."’

Dow’s report, mandated by the state Department of Environmental Quality, outlines immediate plans to install hand-washing stations in parks abutting the Tittabawassee River, to conduct additional soil and blood samples and to establish a community information center explaining dioxin and its effects.

It also reveals plans to map property lines and land uses within the Tittabawassee River floodplain, to answer questions about eating game animals that have fed in contaminated areas and to increase consultation with residents on Riverside Boulevard in Thomas Township where the DEQ unearthed high levels of the chemical.

"It’s a stall tactic," Hurd-Riddick said. "Interim health measures are not predicated on further sampling."

She said Dow is avoiding the real issue of cleaning up a contamination problem along the Tittabawassee River.

Terry R. Miller, also a member of the Lone Tree Council, agreed. Dow does not include a concrete plan for remediating soil or blocking the public’s exposure to the chemical.

"These seem to be Band-Aids when what we really need is something to stop the bleeding," he said.

He pointed specifically to plans for hand-washing stations in Freeland Festival Park and Imerman Memorial Park. Such steps are "inadequate" for dealing with widespread contamination of the floodplain, he said.

"We were looking for a comprehensive interim response that would break the exposure path and clean up some areas," he said. "This does not seem to do that."

Dow officials insist that the company is moving in that direction.

The testing and mapping will provide the scientific data state regulators need to start any sort of cleanup effort, said Susan Carrington, director of sustainable development for Dow’s Midland complex.

"We can’t take steps to get to any direct remediation until we understand what it is and how it needs to be done," she said.

While it will take years to compile dioxin exposure and other ecological data, Carrington said Dow is ready to begin several actions to provide public information and limit health risks in the short term.

The company’s list of "interim actions" will begin as soon the DEQ approves the plan, Carrington said. State officials have 60 days to review the Dow proposal.

"We are ready to move forward immediately on the interim actions," Carrington said. "I don’t think any of us wants to hold up on the actions that can be taken right away."

Jan Bonnau, a 47-year-old Freeland resident, said Dow is marching down the right path, albeit slowly.

"They are taking the proper steps," she said. "They’re just taking their time."

Ruth Averill agreed. The Tittabawassee Township Board of Trustees member said the hand-washing stations, though a small project, will improve the safety of parkgoers in the township.

"They will be there if people want to use them," she said. "It’s just like the signs (that warn about dioxin contamination in the soil). They will allow people to make an educated decision about what they want to do."

Averill declined to comment on environmentalists’ claims that the corrective measures are simply a "token" to property owners along the river.

"At least we’re getting something from them," she said.

Dow officials still believe a comprehensive study of human health and dioxin exposure levels is needed before anyone will know if the contamination is dangerous.

Jeremiah Stettler and Andy Grimm are staff writers for The Saginaw News. You may reach them at 776-9685 or 776-9688.

© 2003 Saginaw News.