Tough crowd greets Dow on river dioxin

Tuesday, September 23, 2003


Dow Chemical Co. officials have offered a plan to do more testing for dioxin along the Tittabawassee River, as well as setting up a community information center and limiting exposure to dioxin-tainted soil and dust in public parks.

Standing among a crowd of disgruntled residents at a public meeting Monday at Swan Valley High School, James Township homeowner Wendy J. Domino suggested Dow also include an apology for polluting land along more than 20 miles of the river bank.

"Look me in the eye," Domino demanded as the crowd of about 100 applauded. "I'm one of the people you're poisoning... I want an apology from you here. Tonight."

Dow Director of Sustainable Development Susan Carrington did say the company was sorry for "the concerns these (dioxin-related) issues" have caused Domino and her neighbors, but residents at the meeting continued to attack the company for acting too slowly in the face of readings that show dioxin levels as high as 80 times the state standard for human contact.

Carrington pointed out that the "scopes of work" outlined in the plan so far include only temporary measures. Testing performed under the proposal will provide data that will allow the company to make more substantial moves to protect residents, she said.

"There is no quick fix," Carrington said. "This is very much a work in progress."

Dow officials will continue to develop the plan it submitted to state officials in June, incorporating remarks from residents at the meeting and at a second presentation scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday at Grace A. Dow Library, 1710 W. Andrews in Midland, Carrington said.

Dow must submit a final version of the scope of work proposal for state approval by Friday, Oct. 10. The plan to clean up chemicals released from the plant is required by a facility license issued by the state in June.

Freeland resident Martha Stimpson said she was hoping for an explanation of how the company plans to clean up the dioxin, a chemical byproduct scientists have linked to a variety of illnesses.

"It's been almost two years now that this report is out," said Stimpson, who lives on River. "And now we hear that someday in the future we might get around to doing something."

Dow already has set up portable hand washing sinks in the parks and has begun meeting with community leaders to discuss limiting dioxin exposure in riverside parks such as Imerman Park in Saginaw Township and Festival Park in Tittabawassee Township.

The proposal also includes plans to study dioxin exposure for flood plain residents, river flow patterns, and create a map of soil types, dioxin levels and land use along the river -- and to determine if even more testing is needed in any area.

The company also has given a $386,000 grant to Michigan State University for research on dioxin levels in wildlife species and their food sources.

Department of Environmental Quality staffers have asked Dow to provide a clearer timeline that would begin testing and field work in early 2004. State reviewers also have asked that the company include more temporary measures to limit residents' exposure to dioxin-tainted soil and dust, including options as severe as purchasing homes in contaminated areas, said DEQ staffer Allan Taylor.

"We want them to give residents a range of options," he said. "These are some pretty serious sacrifices they could be asking."

Taylor pointed out that the hand washing stations may not seem like a significant safety measure, it does reduce residents exposure to dioxin.

"If people have a problem with the hand washing stations, it's because we haven't done a good job of explaining the interim responses," he said. "Rinsing off the dirt from their hands reduces an exposure pathway."

Dow officials have declined comment on what they will include in the revised version of the plan, stating that they will wait for more community input.

State officials also have begun testing soil samples from a 22-mile stretch of the Saginaw River from the Tittabawassee north to the Saginaw Bay. The state department of Community Health has begun a study of 25 flood plain residents' health and dioxin levels.

James Township resident Steve Twietmeyer, who lives along the river between River and Center, was concerned that residents may not like the solutions Dow and the DEQ eventually propose.

"Let's face it, they're not going to clean it up," said Twietmeyer. "It's 24 miles. I don't think Dow's got enough money to clean it up.

"What's the next step? What's the level that they tell us to clear out?" t

Andy Grimm is a staff writer for The Saginaw News. You may reach him at 776-9688.

2003 Saginaw News.

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