River Watch www.trwnews.net
CREW, Citizens for Responsible Ethics in Washington has posted thousands of pages of EPA documents pertaining to Dow Chemical’s dioxin contamination in the Saginaw Bay watershed. The documents were in response to a Freedom of Information request CREW filed with EPA when Mary Gade, Regional Administrator at Region V was terminated by Steven Johnson the head of EPA because she was holding the chemical giant accountable—refusing to play their game and running interference with their persistent end run to EPA headquarters to garner favor--- ( read the documents). No doubt in my mind that Mary Gade had to go—she was interfering with Dow’s plans which you can bet are still being pursued--behind closed doors.
Not holding our much hope for hearings on Gade's termination because of the election, national fatigue with this administrations malfeasance and Administrator Johnson hiding behind the cloak of executive privilege.
Lone Tree Council recently received FOIA documents too. The folks at CREW were kind enough to offer us space on their site. We hope to get documents to them by weeks end. Please visit CREWS site and stay tuned.
Michelle Hurd Riddick
Lone Tree Council
The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) is hosting the next quarterly Midland/Saginaw/Bay City (Tri-Cities) Dioxin Community Meeting at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, August 7, 2008, at the Horizons Conference Center, 6200 State Street, Saginaw. The press release and agenda for the meeting are available at:
Similar to the meeting held on May 7, 2008, this meeting will also feature several open house stations for one-on-one or small group discussion of topics of interest with meeting presenters and agency representatives for one-half hour after the formal portion of the meeting.
Supporting materials are available at the following location: http://www.michigan.gov/deq/0,1607,7-135-3312_4118_4240-53424--,00.html
Please share this notice with others who might be interested in attending this meeting or forward their e-mail addresses to me for inclusion on the distribution list. If you should have any questions, please contact me.
Environmental Engineering Specialist
Hazardous Waste Management Unit
Hazardous Waste Section
Waste and Hazardous Materials Division
Michigan Department of Environmental Quality
P.O. Box 30241, Lansing, MI 48909-7741
Overnight Mail/Street Address:
Constitution Hall, Atrium North, 525 West Allegan Street, Lansing, MI 48933
Recent inside EPA article had several inaccuracies: MDEQ
In response to TRW's concerns after reading a recent Inside EPA report (see next article), the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality had this to say:
"Director Chester has asked that I respond to your inquiries about the article that was read by each of you.
This article was written by John Heltman, who had identified himself to staff as a reporter from "Inside EPA". The article has several inaccuracies. The DEQ will pursue having a retraction printed and making sure the corrections are printed.
The reporter's first question was why we were using 1 ppb as the cleanup level and staff repeated several times that it was not a cleanup level, 90 ppt or 0.09 ppb is the current state residential cleanup value and explained that Dow has the option to propose a site-specific cleanup value, which would require our review and approval. The 1-ppb was never identified as a clean-up level, but as an INTERIM RESPONSE ACTIVITY (IRA) LEVEL. The IRA Level was explained to be a trigger for more immediate action, not a clean-up criterion. When asked if the final cleanup level would be lower than 1 ppb, staff indicated that we could not predict what the final cleanup level would be at this time. It would depend on the exposure pathways addressed and toxicity values used. Staff did say that without EPA's reassessment being complete, MDEQ will need to review what Dow proposes to use as part of their site-specific assessment.
When asked why we used 1 ppb instead of 0.09 ppb for IRAs, staff indicated the IRA levels were chosen to address the worst first, highest likely residential exposures as interim responses, with others to be addressed as part of the final cleanup. If you recall, in 2005, the Department required Dow to complete IRAs on properties that were frequently flooded, assuming, based on DEQ sampling, that these properties were at or near the 1 ppb level. If we tried to address everything over 90 ppt as an IRA, the number of properties would be so large that it could hold up the investigation of the rest of the river. Staff also indicated that agreeing to 1 ppb for IRAs allowed for IRAs to proceed sooner for the areas with greater exposure potential".
Department of Environmental Quality
While we appreciate MDEQ's timely response, TRW believes that if this is a State RCRA lead project, the States 90 ppt. residential contact number should be used instead of 1000 ppt., until a time that that number is proven overprotective.
Risk Policy Report
At the same time, environmentalists are criticizing EPA's decision to set a 1 part-per-billion (ppb) cleanup level for the removal action, saying the agency has adopted levels significantly weaker than requirements at other dioxin-contaminated sites, which could undermine state efforts to impose their own, stricter requirements.
EPA entered into an Administrative Order of Consent (AOC) with Dow July 11 to remove dioxin contamination from soil at 11 homes near the company's Midland, MI, facility. The residential neighborhood is part of a massive dioxin-contaminated area in the Tittabawassee and Saginaw River areas, which has gained notoriety after former EPA Region V Administrator Mary Gade claimed she was ousted for requiring strict cleanup levels there.
The site has also highlighted the difficulty EPA is facing setting dioxin cleanup levels as it struggles to complete a decades-in-the-making risk assessment for the chemical. As a result, many observers are also closely watching developments at the site because they believe it could set a precedent for the stringency of other dioxin cleanups in the absence of EPA completing its risk assessment.
EPA has been struggling to revise the assessment and has not yet set regulatory levels for dioxin while its final risk assessment is unfinished. Agency sources said recently that EPA is restarting its stalled review of its draft risk assessment of dioxin, and in coming weeks the agency's Science Advisory Board will begin forming a panel to conduct a review and provide advice in finalizing the assessment, which will eventually be used to set regulatory levels.
In this case, the AOC, which was released July 15, said EPA's general cleanup level for direct contact in residential soils was 1 ppb, but noted the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) requires a more restrictive cleanup level of 0.09 ppb. Michigan waived its standard and consented to the 1-ppb cleanup level, however, because state regulations allow for a different cleanup number to be developed and used based on site-specific and other information, the AOC says.
Joel Hirschorn, a Superfund consultant to some communities, said in a 2006 article for Remediation Journal that the 1-ppb cleanup level that EPA uses for residential areas is based on the 1984 risk assessment EPA is now struggling to revise. Hirschorn says EPA has called the 1-ppb level a policy-based level, which correctly distinguishes it from a risk- or health-based cleanup standard.
An MDEQ official says Michigan opted for the 1-ppb cleanup level -- instead of its own more stringent 0.9-ppb cleanup level -- because the amount of land in the Midland area that would have been considered contaminated at that level is too great to possibly remediate in the interim, so as a matter of practicality the level had to be set to 1 ppb. "Part of it is that there's so much area that's above 0.9 [ppb], it would be too [large]," the source said. "We tried to find places that, in the interim, could be addressed, and it was decided and agreed between the state and Dow that 1 ppb [was acceptable]. We have to move forward and the people with the highest concentrations get addressed first."
EPA said in a statement that the remediation effort at the Riverside Boulevard site was designed to remove contaminated soil to a specific depth and replace it with clean soil to eliminate a direct contact threat to the residents of the neighborhood, and thus was "not keyed to a specific dioxin risk level" and that MDEQ had taken part in the negotiations as well. The statement adds that the site was one of a series of ongoing remediation projects related to the Midland plant and "was not envisioned as establishing a national dioxin policy precedent."
EPA and state officials say the agreement does not foreclose the possibility that regulators could come back in the future and require stricter cleanup levels. Superfund law generally allows removal actions such as this to meet less-restrictive cleanups as remedial actions.
The MDEQ official, however, says regulators will not be able to do that until after EPA finalizes its risk assessment. A future cleanup requirement could be stricter than 1 ppb, the source says, "but it depends on the contamination pathways and what [EPA's] dioxin toxicity value ends up being. Everybody's waiting for the [risk] assessment to be finalized, so without having that, we have to wait for Dow to propose something."
The state official's comments highlight long-standing concerns from environmentalists and others, who say that in the absence of EPA finalizing its risk assessment industry will be able to delay strict cleanup levels. Industry "wants to get final cleanup plans in place so that [regulators] won't be able to backtrack" when EPA releases the final risk data, one environmental scientist has said.
Meanwhile, other sources say EPA's selection of a 1-ppb cleanup level is inadequate, even as an interim measure. The 1-ppb cleanup level is "still an old standard, and not protective of human health," one environmentalist says, pointing out that other regulators have adopted a dioxin cleanup level for residential soils that is an order of magnitude lower than 1 ppb.
In his 2006 article, Hirschorn noted, for example, that EPA Region IV has set a residential cleanup level for dioxin at 200 parts per trillion (ppt) for two Superfund sites, while Montana's Department of Environmental Quality has also adopted the 200-ppt cleanup level. "This suggests a shift in EPA policy" away from the 1-ppb level, he says.
The environmentalist adds that the argument for adopting a weak cleanup standard as a means of creating a manageable solution is not a novel one, and has been employed almost as long as Superfund has been around. "They're making management decisions based on what they can do rather than what's protective" of the residents, the source says.
The source welcomes EPA's disclaimer that the removal action was not a precedent. "I'm glad they went to the trouble of acknowledging that it's not something worth copying," the source says. "They're just trying to justify their approval" of the 1-ppb level.
A source with Dow says the company's negotiations with EPA have been "reasonable" but added that the company maintains the work is unnecessary because soil contamination is not a source of exposure to the residents in the area. The source says Dow conducted a study on its own of the residents in the area and concluded the dioxin in the soil was not reaching the residents, therefore making the remediation superfluous to ensuring their health. "But we're a regulated party, and we're going to do what we said we would do," the source says.
The site is the fourth of five projects EPA is requiring Dow to complete in order to remove the dioxin and furan contamination along the Tittabawassee and Saginaw Rivers caused by the Midland plant, which has been in operation since the late 19th century. Two of the other remediation projects were completed in 2007, and an environmental dredging project in the Tittabawassee is ongoing. -- John Heltman
As reported by the Associated Press
The Environmental Protection Agency is telling its pollution enforcement officials not to talk with congressional investigators, reporters and even the agency's own inspector general, according to an internal e-mail provided to The Associated Press.
The June 16 message instructs 11 managers in the EPA's Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, the branch of the agency charged with making sure environmental laws are followed, to remind their staff members to keep quiet.
"If you are contacted directly by the IG's office or GAO requesting information of any kind ... please do not respond to questions or make any statements," reads the e-mail sent by Robbi Farrell, the division's chief of staff. Instead, staff members should forward inquiries to a designated EPA representative, the memo says. ....
Long-lasting effects of the Seveso disaster on thyroid function in babies
Three decades after an accident at a chemical factory in Seveso, Italy in 1976, which resulted in exposure of a residential population to the most dangerous type of dioxin, newborn babies born to mothers living in the contaminated area at the time of the accident are over six times more likely to have altered thyroid function than those born to mothers in a non-contaminated area. The study finding these results is published in the open access journal PLoS Medicine this week by Andrea Baccarelli (of the University of Milan) and colleagues from the United States and Italy.
Buhl will replace Mary Gade, who was fired/resigned May 1 amid internal fights over dioxin contamination near Dow Chemical Co.'s headquarters in Midland, Mich.
As a Bush political appointee Buhl's tenure may be limited to 6 months depending upon the elections in November. Will recent progress on the Tittabawassee River flood plain clean up come to a screeching halt? Will Buhl develop a conscious as Mary Gady seemingly did so last year? Buhl was rejected for a number or prior jobs, what makes here qualified for this job? Will Dow have any influence on Buhl's actions? Only time will tell. Below is a recent article from Grist Magazine concerning Buhl and her past.
In the EPA's Midwestern division, a pro-industry stalwart replaces a dioxin stickler
Posted by Tom Philpott at 3:28 PM on 21 Jul 2008, Grist Magazine
Back in May, Mary Gade found herself unceremoniously ousted from her post as Midwest regional administrator.
According to an excellent Chicago Tribune article by Michael Hawthorne, Gade had been locked in a battle with Dow over the chemical giant's massive, long-standing dioxin mess in low-income areas of Michigan.
Hawthorne reports that Gade crossed a line with her bosses in Washington when "she sent contractors to test soil in [one] neighborhood where Dow had found high dioxin levels. The levels in one ... yard were nearly six times higher than the federal cleanup standard, and 65 times higher than what Michigan considers acceptable."
Said Gade after her firing: "There's no question this is about Dow. I stand behind what I did and what my staff did. I'm proud of what we did."
Evidently keen to keep sure such confrontations with powerful
industry players from happening again, the EPA has named Lynn Buhl as
Gade's replacement. The agency's press release paints Buhl as a diligent
career public servant. But as this vintage
2003 Daily Grist entry shows, Buhl is a long-time industry
Buhl's ties to the Michigan area go back decades. Starting in 1988, Buhl worked for 10 years as "senior staff counsel for environmental legal affairs" for car giant DaimlerChrysler Corp. In that decade of cheap oil, Detroit launched a highly profitable SUV craze -- a trend from which the planet may never recover.
After that, she went to work for in the Michigan's Department of Environmental Quality for then Gov. John Engler (R), a notorious environmental scoundrel.
By 2003, Buhl was cozying up to Republican politicians in Maryland, where Gov. Robert Ehrlich nominated her to head the state's Department of the Environment. The choice was such a travesty that the Maryland Senate rejected the nomination -- a rebuke so stinging that it made national news, as the above-linked Daily Grist entry shows.
It's a shame that a region beset by persistent dioxin poisoning from a corporate titan like Dow is getting such an apparent industry shill as its top federal environmental watchdog.
I should note, though, that Mary Gade, the woman who was ousted from Buhl's new post for standing up to Dow, also spent time working as an industry lawyer, for the firm Sonnenschein, Nath, and Rosenthal. Maybe Buhl will have a similar change of conscience?
I hope so. According to the above-linked Chicago Tribune article, here's how things stand in the part of Michigan dumped on by Dow:
[A]ll along the two wide streams that cut through this old industrial town, signs warn people to keep off dioxin-contaminated riverbanks and to avoid eating fish pulled from the fast-moving waters. Officials have taken the swings down in one riverside park to discourage kids from playing there. Men in rubber boots and thick gloves occasionally knock on doors, asking residents whether they can dig up a little soil in the yard.
TRW appreciates Mr. Matlby's efforts in keeping track of Dow's contamination of the Tittabawassee River.
From the author:
"This volume of The Aftermath, a supplemental report is the last in a series of books including the Pollution Signature, The Dioxin Story, and Revival of the Tittabawassee, and The Aftermath, Restoration of a Failed Ecosystem.
Copies are available in local libraries.
CONTACT:Mick Hans, 312-353-5050, email@example.com
Karen Thompson, 312-353-8547, firstname.lastname@example.org
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Dow Chemical to clean up dioxin contamination in Saginaw's Riverside Boulevard neighborhood
CHICAGO (July 15, 2008) - U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 5 today announced an agreement with Dow Chemical Co. that requires the company to clean up dioxin contamination in the Riverside Boulevard neighborhood of Saginaw, Mich. Construction work in this neighborhood on the Lower Tittabawassee River is expected to begin in late July and continue through the fall.
EPA's data shows unacceptably high levels of dioxin contamination in
yards, the unpaved Riverside Boulevard roadway and in the interior of some
"We are pleased that Dow and EPA were able to reach agreement on the terms of this cleanup," said EPA Region 5 Superfund Division Director Richard Karl. "EPA will continue to oversee all aspects of the work along Riverside Boulevard in close coordination with MDEQ and MDCH."
The agreement, called an administrative order on consent, includes:
Dow's Midland facility is a 1,900-acre chemical manufacturing plant.
Dioxins and furans are byproducts from the manufacture of chlorine-based
products. Past waste disposal practices, emissions and incineration at Dow
have resulted in on- and off-site dioxin and furan contamination. A copy of
the administrative order on consent and other documents are at