The great divide
Friday, September 26, 2003
THE SAGINAW NEWS
MIDLAND -- Call it the tale of two cities.
At a public meeting Monday at Swan Valley High School, Saginaw County residents blasted a Dow Chemical Co. proposal to handle dioxin contamination along the Tittabawassee River.
At a meeting Thursday in the chemical giant's hometown of Midland, audience members -- many of them Dow employees or retirees -- praised the same plan and lauded Dow for its commitment to the health of its workers and community members.
The state Department of Environmental Quality organized the sessions to give residents a chance to weigh in on how Dow and the state will deal with levels of dioxin in the Tittabawassee floodplain that reach as high as 80 times above state standards that can trigger a full-scale cleanup.
Terms of the state license that regulates Dow's waste releases require the company to come up with a series of short- and long-term solutions to protect residents from dioxin exposure.
State regulators may have trouble reconciling the requests from the two areas as well as critiques of the Dow proposal from staff members and the federal Environmental Protection Agency.
Residents of Midland are less worried about dioxin than their neighbors downstream, said Mayor R. Drummond Black.
"Virtually nobody comes up to me to express any concern about dioxin," said Black, who lives in the southeast corner of the city near Dow's complex.
Dioxin in soil in Midland likely came from airborne releases from the plant that settled as a "light dusting" of dioxin that still exceeds the 90 parts per trillion deemed safe for human contact by state regulators, Black said.
Black urged state officials to treat the two areas differently when they consider plans for further testing or remediation. He said he favors leaving dioxin-laden soil alone.
"We see no need for interdiction at this point, no need for further widespread sampling," he said. "We have to balance the consequences of leaving (dioxin there) with moving it around for a cleanup.
"Don't link us with the situation of the area down the river."
At the Swan Valley meeting, residents urged Dow to move swiftly toward a cleanup, and accused the company of proposing a battery of health and environmental tests to stall the process.
State officials have said most if not all of the dioxin contamination along the 22-mile stretch of the Tittabawassee between Midland and Saginaw came from Dow waste.
Public remarks have fallen into a familiar pattern.
Those hosted in Saginaw County feature mostly tales of dream homes on the river turned into nightmares, testimonials from residents who fear dioxin exposure has made them ill, and angry demands and accusations directed at Dow.
In Midland, where Dow employs about 3,800 workers, audience members praise the company for its devotion to safety and the community, and demand proof that dioxin poses any health threat at all.
Real estate agent and lifetime Midland resident Wayne Crosby on Thursday rattled off a list of relatives who never suffered any dioxin-related illnesses, and urged the state to perform more health studies before mandating a massive cleanup.
"The word (dioxin) is putting fear into people, so we are reacting out of fear," he said.
State officials have said they will reject the draft of the Dow proposal without significant revisions. The DEQ's staff review of the proposal has requested Dow add specific interim steps to protect residents from exposure to dioxin, list specific options for possible action and add testing sites in Midland.
Dow already has installed hand-washing stations in parks along the river and has announced plans to create a public information center on the contamination. Dow also is meeting with community leaders regarding plans to cover soil on trails and around playgrounds with uncontaminated material.
The company has awarded Michigan State University researchers $386,000 to perform a study of dioxin levels in animals in contaminated areas.
Dow Director of Sustainable Development Susan Carrington said the company will continue to review comments from residents and negotiate with the state before deciding what changes to make.
The state has not required a similar work plan for other environmental investigations, so Dow had no model, she said.
"The scopes of work are unique (to the Tittabawassee dioxin situation)," she said.
Carrington issued a statement after Monday's meeting chastising "activists and plaintiffs" for attacking Dow instead of offering "constructive" criticism.
Terry Miller, a leader of the Tri-Cities environmental group Lone Tree Council, said the anger and frustration of Saginaw County residents does not make their concerns any less valid than their Midland neighbors' appeals.
"Historian Howard Zinn said, 'There is no correlation between emotion and irrationality,' " Miller said.
"I can understand why people who live in Midland and work for Dow Chemical want to defend (the proposal and the company), but that is the irrational position in this case."
Residents may send written comments to the DEQ until Friday, Oct. 10. Address comments to Cheryl Howe, Waste and Hazardous Materials Division, Department of Environmental Quality, P.O. Box 30241, Lansing, MI 48909-7741 or e-mail Howe at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information about dioxin contamination, visit www.michigan.gov/tittabawassee. t
Andy Grimm is a staff writer for The Saginaw News. You may reach him at 776-9688.
© 2003 Saginaw News.
For additional articles like this one, go to the Tittabawasse River Watch web site www.trwnews.net 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.