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How was the dioxin discovered?

Below is a press release made by Lone Tree Council when they discovered critical information about the Dioxin contamination was being witheld from the public.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CONTACT:  Dave Dempsey (517) 487-9539
JANUARY 31, 2002                              Michelle Hurd-Riddick (989) 799-3313

 

Citizens ask for Federal Probe into Major Dioxin Cover-up in Michigan

Dioxin Levels 80 Times Above State Standards Found in Floodplain at
Confluence of Tittabawassee and Saginaw Rivers.
 
DEQ Director Blocks Further Testing, and Seeks Suppression of Health
Assessment Calling for Aggressive Action
 
Saginaw—Documents obtained by environmental groups show the state has
found dioxin levels 80 times state cleanup standards near parks and
residential areas in a floodplain south of the City of Saginaw, but state
DEQ Director Russell Harding has blocked further testing and is suppressing
a state health assessment that the groups believe calls for aggressive state
action to deal with the threat.
 
Harding has also overridden DEQ staff and ordered them to weaken the states
cleanup standard for dioxins in new rules the agency is promulgating. In a
document obtained by the environmental groups, a DEQ staffer said the
Harding decision did not reflect the best available information and
another staffer said the level should be toughened, not weakened, based on
emerging science.
 
The Michigan Environmental Council, Environmental Health Watch, Lone Tree
Council and the Ecology Center called Harding’s behavior "outrageous" and
called for him to "get out of the way" and permit public servants to do
their job to protect public health and the environment. The groups wrote key
members of Congress and the assistant administrator of a federal toxic
substances agency demanding a probe of Hardings actions. The states
failure to fully inform the public so that citizens can take action to
protect their own health is unconscionable said the groups.
 
The evidence points to Harding repeatedly delaying the state efforts to discover
the extent of the dioxin problem, said Midland resident Diane Hebert, director
of Environmental Health Watch. In my mind this is a cover-up.
 
Levels of dioxin ranged from 39 to more than 7200 parts per trillion in the
flood plain near Saginaw. The state’s current residential cleanup standard
is 90 parts per trillion. The levels found in some areas of the flood plain
exceed a federal action standard of 1 part per billion set by the Agency for
Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR).
 
By comparison, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced in October 2001 that it will
relocate some residents of Pensacola, Florida whose residential soil levels
reached or exceeded 200 parts per trillion. No follow up sampling has been
done or cleanup plan developed in residential areas of Midland where dioxin
levels exceed state cleanup standards, despite repeated requests for this
from environmental groups.

Specifically, the groups are now calling for:

bulletImmediate actions to protect children from being exposed to dioxin in parks and residential areas along the Tittabawassee River to its confluence with the Saginaw River.
bulletRelease of a public health assessment of the risks posed by contamination in Midland and the Tittabawassee River flood plain.
bulletImmediate State authorization for a more detailed investigation into the extent of dioxin/furan contamination in the floodplain of the Tittabawassee River, and determination as to the source or sources.
bulletState authorization for development of a cleanup plan.
bulletA federal and Congressional investigation into the failure of the State Department of Environmental Quality, Department of Agriculture, and Department of Community Health to inform local agencies, and to address a major public health risk in a timely manner.

 

It is simply unconscionable that the state has sat on these results, said
Lone Tree Council member Michelle Hurd-Riddick. Children could have already
been harmed by their inaction. Soil levels in Midland in public parks and schools ranged from .01ppb to
.210 ppb TEQ (10 to 210 ppt) and averaged 0.05 ppb TEQ.

 

Dioxin Facts Uncovered by Environmental Groups

The new revelations stem from DEQ documents unearthed through a Freedom of Information Act request. Direct quotes from the documents:

High Dioxin Levels

August, 2001 GreenPoint-Tittabawassee River Dioxin Study Area Phase I
Sampling Study Report, Michigan Department of Environmental Quality
"Soil samples collected by the General Motors Corporation (GM) as part of a
wetland mitigation project identified elevated levels of dioxin and
dibenzofuran compounds (hereinafter referred to as "dioxin") in a farm field
located in the Tittabawasee River floodplain near its confluence with the
Saginaw River. The samples, collected during April of 2000, identified
concentrations of dioxin as high as 2,199 parts per trillion (ppt) toxic
equivalence factor units (TEF). The dioxin concentrations were almost
twenty-five (25) times the residential direct contact criteria of 90 ppt
established under the provisions of Part 201 [of NREPA]. Concern over the
public health and environmental implications of the GM sample results
prompted the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality Environmental
Response Division to develop and implement a soil sampling an assessment
program in the Tittawbawasee River flood plain. During the period from
December 2000 to June 2001 the ERD collected soil samples from five
locations in the Tittabawasee River floodplain between Center Road in
Saginaw Township, Saginaw County, and the Saginaw River confluence. A total
of thirty-four samples were collected at depths ranging from to twelve
(12)inches below the surface. Analytical results identified concentrations
ranging from 39 to 7,261 ppt. Only five of the thirty-four samples contained
TEF concentrations less than the Part 201 residential direct contact
criteria of 90 ppt TEF (RDCC)."
 
"Dioxin concentrations are consistently found above the Part 201 RDCC, and
have been identified as high as eighty (80) times the RDCC. Upstream of
the Phase I sample area, active human use of the floodplain increases.
Numerous residential properties are located within the floodplain, the
majority located within the Shields area and Saginaw Township. Some
agriculture operations are also located within the floodplain, as are some
public parklands."

 

Blocking Further Testing in the Area

Michigan Department of Environmental Quality Staff memo dated November 9,2001
The deputies of the three departments all agreed we should proceed with
Phase II. However, Art said he needed to touch base with the director and
get back with me later to give me the go-ahead. Art called later and said
Russ Harding did not want to proceed. Art said Russ wanted to review the
documentation some more. I will be sending Art a GroupWise note asking him
to clarify when we might get a final answer from Russ.

Michigan Department of Environmental Quality Staff communication dated November 14, 2001

Well it is almost time for Thanksgiving turkey which means it is getting
late in the season. We are still hoping for approval before freeze up. Any
news from the Director yet?
Harding apparently does not want us to proceed. I am trying to influence
that attitude.
 

Michigan Department of Community Health Staff memorandum dated November 27, 2001:

"Yes, we were aware...that Director Harding has not OKed the additional
sampling in the T. River flood plain."

Weakening Dioxin Standards

Michigan Department of Environmental Quality Staff Memo dated November 28, 2001:

"Just wanted to let you know that Director Harding made the decision

yesterday to place in the 201 Rules the dioxin criteria that reflect the

revised generic exposure assumptions (150 ppt for residential and 740 ppt

for industrial) - he felt it was most reasonable to calculate the criteria

in the same manner as all other criteria are calculated. Since dioxin is NOT

like all other hazardous substances in that the toxicity data do not

reflect the best available information, I think we should reconvene the TSG

subcommittee, dust off and get ready to finalize the dioxin tox assessment

so that we can be ready to generate revised criteria."

Staff E-mail dated November 20, 2001:

"THE MORE I THINK ABOUT IT THE MORE UNCOMFORTABLE I GET. ALTHOUGH I AGREE
IN PRINCIPLE THAT THE CRITERIA FOR ALL HAZARDOUS SUBSTANCES SHOULD
INCORPORATE THE SAME GENERIC EXPOSURE ASSUMPTIONS, DIOXIN IS SO UNIQUE AND
OF SUCH SIGNIFICANT PUBLIC HEALTH CONCERN THAT MAKING IT AN EXCEPTION IS
REASONABLE. MORE IMPORTANTLY, KNOWING THE CRITERIA WILL ULTIMATELY DECREASE BASED ON AN UPDATED TOXICITY ASSESSMENT AND BEING ABLE TO MAKE ALL THE REVISIONS AT THE SAME TIME, MAKES A VERY STRONG CASE TO MAINTAIN THE CURRENT CRITERIA."
"INCORPORATING THE REVISED GENERIC EXPOSURE ASSUMPTIONS WITHOUT REVISING
THE TOXICITY ENDPOINTS WILL RESULT IN CRITERIA THAT ARE NOT PROTECTIVE OF
PUBLIC HEALTH AND ARE NOT BASED ON THE "BEST AVAILABLE INFORMATION."

 

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