Dow: Little dioxin risk

Thursday, October 2, 2003


Homeowners do not face significant health risks from dioxin-contaminated soil along the Tittabawassee River and do not need a medical monitoring study to prove it, Dow Chemical Co. attorneys say in court documents filed Wednesday.

The filing is a response to a lawsuit by nearly 300 property owners along the Tittabawassee between Dow's Midland complex and Saginaw.

Statements made repeatedly in the document contradict the company's public support for a large-scale health study of floodplain residents, paid for by Dow, as the only way to answer residents' concerns about dioxin exposure and illness, said Jan P. Helder, a Kansas City-based attorney representing the homeowners.

Dow attorneys repeatedly state throughout the document that "dioxin found in soils and sediments generally is not available for significant exposure to people and, therefore, presents no significant health risk," and that residents do not need medical testing to determine health effects.

"Dow is showing their colors here -- they are talking out of both sides of their mouth when they're saying they want to get to the bottom of things with neutral testing ... they're clearly concluding that there's no risk already," Helder said. "They'll say whatever they need to say to whoever they need to say it."

Dow has "filed standard defenses when claims of this nature are made," responded Scot Wheeler, a company spokesman.

"Based on everything we've seen and data we know of, there is no indication that property values have been impacted or that there are any other types of valid claims. That's a standard legal defense.

"We know there are concerns from the community that are out there. We know there are questions being raised. We know there is a desire for more specific answers that apply to this situation.

"We also live in this community. Long after the plaintiffs' attorney goes back to Kansas City, we'll still be living and working in this community."

The discord between the statements in the brief and the company's public statements should cast doubt on Dow's proposed plan for interim cleanup measures and more testing, including an independent study that measures residents' exposure to dioxin, Helder said.

"Our claim, the one they're fighting so hard, really seeks nothing more than to fund an independent assessment of people's health," Helder said. "But Dow won't support (a court-monitored study) because they're uncomfortable doing anything outside the political process that they can manipulate.

"They ought not be able to say one thing in a community meeting and another in court."

Plaintiffs in the suit and activists have criticized the Dow proposal for not moving quickly to remove residents from contaminated areas, and state officials have asked the company to revise the plan in several areas.

The Dow legal filing also points out that dioxin risks vary by exposure levels and the types of animal species exposed to the chemical, and disputes claims that the chemical is conclusively linked to serious illnesses.

Dioxin is the name for a family of compounds that are the byproducts of chlorine manufacturing and other industrial processes. State testing revealed levels of dioxin along the river that reach as high as 80 times the state standards that may trigger an environmental cleanup.

State Department of Environmental Quality toxicologists have said that studies have linked dioxin exposure to increased incidence of all forms of cancer, immune disorders and birth defects.

Dow officials have countered that research on humans has not shown dioxin as the definitive cause of serious illnesses. 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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