Dow to those along the Tittabawassee: Let's talk

Friday, November 7, 2003


Dow Chemical Co. is preparing its guest list for a round of "neighborhood" meetings along the Tittabawassee River.

Officials announced this week plans for discussing dioxin contamination with small groups of property owners -- 20 people per session -- in the polluted floodplain downstream from Dow's Midland plants.

They say the meetings will help the chemical giant understand residents' concerns about dioxin and Dow's plans for dealing with it.

"Too often, organizations get it in their own minds what people want," said Jack Clough, a consultant hired to conduct the meetings for Dow.

"But we frequently find that what people want and what we think they want are two different things."

The meetings will occur on various days next week in Saginaw Township.

The sessions are by invitation only.

Gary Henry, a resident suing Dow for dioxin contamination, issued a public statement Thursday urging property owners to refuse the company's invitation.

"You have nothing to gain and everything to lose if you attend these sessions," he wrote.

Henry feared Dow would use the meetings to undercut a lawsuit against the chemical giant. He said officials could probe into property, health and employment information or request permission to conduct blood sampling.

"These people are not represented (by an attorney)," he said. "Anything they say can and will be used against them."

Dow spokeswoman Sarah R. Opperman denied any connection between the lawsuit and the neighborhood meetings.

Dow attorneys also are asking Saginaw County Chief Circuit Judge Leopold P. Borrello to allow the company to interview residents individually along the Tittabawassee River. Attorneys would schedule talks with residents not named in the lawsuit.

The neighborhood meetings are "unrelated," Opperman said. They are designed as a "public outreach" tool for dealing with concerns about the toxin, building relationships and gathering input from property owners on how to resolve the contamination problem.

Opperman said Dow attorneys would not attend the meetings, and the company would not keep video or audio recordings for use elsewhere.

But Michelle Hurd-Riddick, a member of the environmental watchdog group Lone Tree Council, isn't convinced of the separation.

"Dow doesn't do anything non-strategic," she said. "Everything they do is carefully calculated. I think what Dow is going to do is get residents in that room and get them to have their property studied and have their blood tested."

She said meetings "have everything to do" with the lawsuit, whether or not Dow officials admit it. Hurd-Riddick said the program is inappropriate in light of pending litigation against Dow.

"All these people on the river are potential plaintiffs against the company," she said. "Dow should wait until the judge rules as to whether they can talk with these people. Dow needs to play by the rules like everyone else."

Opperman said claims against the company are untrue.

"This is a gesture to reach out to the community," she said. "It is really unfortunate that a small group of people want to shut down that dialogue."

Opperman said Dow would not ask for permission to do blood or soil sampling, would not pry into medical histories or property information and would not use information from the meeting for litigation purposes.

The meetings are about community involvement, she said. Dow officials say the small-group settings will give residents a more comfortable environment for expressing their concerns.

"Many residents have something they want to input, but they would rather do it in an informal discussion," she said. "This is another vehicle for gathering that information."

The meetings will include an introduction of Dow officials, a question-and-answer period and an open forum for offering suggestions or comments about how to deal with dioxin contamination, a letter to residents stated.

Opperman said the company will mail invitations to all property owners along the Tittabawassee River who are not named in a lawsuit against Dow. t

Jeremiah Stettler is a staff writer for The Saginaw News. You may reach him at 776-9685.

2003 Saginaw News.

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