No one knows answers to worrisome questions

Thursday, August 21, 2003


As a child, Jane Krawczak saw the Tittabawassee River as a playground paradise.

She and her friends often would shed their shoes and wade in the waters near their Tittabawassee Township

homes, the sandy river bottom sliding between their toes.

Thirty-eight years later, Krawczak was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, and an old river playmate has the same affliction. The 50-year-old now wonders whether dioxin in the soil may have caused their diseases.

After posing the question Wednesday to a panel of health experts in Freeland, Krawczak got her answer.

No one really knows whether dioxin causes multiple sclerosis.

"I’m not looking for help for me. This is for the future," said Krawczak, who now lives in Thomas Township. "Someone has to be responsible."

About 150 people, including many professionals from Dow Chemical Co. in Midland, attended a hearing at Freeland High School designed to inform the community about the dangers of dioxin.

Dioxin became a major issue along the river’s floodplain after soil samples taken two years showed very high levels of dioxin. The state has declared homes in the floodplain as "hazardous waste facilities," and a group of residents has filed suit against Dow, claiming it is the source of the toxic substance.

The hearing, hosted by the state Department of Community Health, included presentations by Dr. Suzanne White, medical director of Children’s Hospital of Michigan Regional Poison Control Center in Detroit, and Dr. Henry Falk, assistant administrator for the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, a federal health agency that deals with environmental health hazards.

Although much research is inconclusive about dioxin, White said, many studies show a link between the substance and cancer and birth defects in humans, as well as a host of other ailments.

"Dioxin concerns me," White said. "The more I read about it, the more concerned I become. Why I am here? I can sum it up in three words—for the children."

Isolated studies suggest dioxin can increase a person’s chances of getting cancer by as much as 40 to 100 percent, she said.

She added that data show a higher-than-expected incidence of cancer near Midland, although birth data show normal levels of birth defects. She cautioned the birth information is fairly recent and limited.

White said dioxin especially can interfere with childhood development and have lifelong consequences. There is even a hazard to a child playing in the back yard if the soil has high dioxin content, she said.

"The younger the child, the more significant the exposure would be," she said. "Because kids are rapidly growing, (the dioxin) is likely to have more impact."

During a question-and-answer period, several residents posed questions about the specific dangers of dioxin in the Tittabawassee flood plain, but health officials had few detailed answers.

State officials are still studying dioxin in the floodplain and hope soon to begin a study of 25 residents to determine their exposure levels to dioxin. Eventually, they say they want to study more residents.

Facing cat-calls from some audience members, several Dow employees took the microphone as well, citing their concern about the dioxin issue.

The company recently presented a plan to the state Department of Environmental Quality to deal with contamination along the river, but state officials said the plan did not go far enough.

"I think the company understands it hasn’t done enough to address the dioxin concerns," said Susan S. Carrington, Dow’s director of sustainable development. "The company is committed to stepping up to the plate."

Robert Cowling, for one, said he is dubious about Dow’s environmental commitment, saying it never warned the community about dioxin along the river during flooding.

Cowling, 42, and his wife, Kathleen, of Saginaw Township, are building a house on land they purchased in Tittabawassee Township three years ago—just outside the flood plain.

"I’m afraid about the political climate—the anti-environmental stance of the Bush administration," said Cowling, a computer network engineer. "I’m afraid that nothing will be done."

Until health officials can provide more answers about dioxin exposures, White offered a few tips to residents to limit their exposure to it.

Those include not eating fish caught in the river, washing and peeling produce grown near there and discouraging children from placing toys or dirty items into their mouths. t

Scott Davis is a staff writer for The Saginaw News. You may reach him at 776-9665.

2003 Saginaw News

For additional articles like this one, go to the Tittabawasse River Watch web site for complete coverage of the Tittabawassee River Dow Chemical dioxin contamination saga. . The Newspaper / Media page of our site contains an extensive archive of media articles dating back to January 2002. The source organization's web site link is listed to the right of the article, visit often for other news in our area. The Newspaper / Media page may be accessed by scrolling down to the bottom of the CONTENTS section and clicking on the Newspaper/Media link.