State demands more from Dow

Wednesday, August 20, 2003

BRYCE HOFFMAN
THE SAGINAW NEWS

Not good enough.

That’s how state officials rated a Dow Chemical Co.

plan to deal with contamination of the Tittabawassee River floodplain. Officials completed a preliminary review of Dow’s "scope of work" proposal last week.

The plan includes short- and long-term goals for testing and reducing human exposure to toxic chemicals, such as dioxin, until a permanent solution is in place.

Dow is installing hand-washing stations in Freeland Festival, Imerman Memorial and West Michigan parks. The company also wants to conduct soil testing, establish a community information center about dioxin, cover playground areas and paths with uncontaminated material, and study animals in the area to determine whether wild game is safe to eat.

The Waste and Hazardous Materials Division of the state Department of Environmental Quality reviewed the work plan and found Dow did not address "a number of key issues," Division Chief George Bruchmann wrote in an e-mail to the company.

It is typical for the state to find fault with scope of work efforts, said Cheryl Howe, senior environmental engineer for the DEQ’s Hazardous Waste Management Unit. Officials likely will order Dow to modify the proposal in order to win approval, she said.

"We will probably be meeting face to face with Dow here in the next couple of weeks," Howe said.

The plan doesn’t do enough to limit exposure among residents on Riverside in Saginaw or identify ways residents could become exposed to the toxic materials, the review said.

Dow further failed to outline testing for other residential areas, including sites in Midland, where contamination is likely, the report said. The state also wants to see soil testing in the Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge and Green Point Environmental Learning Center, the review said.

"The level of detail we were looking for was just not there," Howe said. "We had expected a range of options to be laid out that could be offered to residents."

Dow officials said the company wants to work with the community to find solutions.

"This is just the beginning," said Susan S. Carrington, Dow’s director of sustainable development. "We’re going to be developing massive work plans. We need to involve the community in the next steps and listen to what they want."

Carrington said Dow remains committed to funding a long-term human exposure study of the effects of dioxin "so people get the answers they need."

The chemical company and state officials will host public meetings to explain the proposal in late September or October, Howe said, and two health experts will speak about dioxin contamination tonight at 7 p.m. at Freeland High School, 8250 Webster.

A Tri-Cities environmental watchdog group continues to accuse Dow of stall tactics.

"You can only give so much lip service," said Michelle Hurd-Riddick, a member of the Lone Tree Council.

"This contamination has been going on for decades. Hand-washing stations, a little bit of gravel and more studying is not the answer. The state needs to be extremely firm."

Hurd-Riddick said Dow could make a good first step by sodding the yards of residential property along the river. She said it would provide at least a small barrier between people and contaminated ground.

"That’s the corporate responsible thing to do," she said. "It’s not enough to test the soil. Dow has purchased all the time they need." t

Bryce Hoffman is a staff writer for The Saginaw News. You may reach him at 776-9673.

© 2003 Saginaw News