Residents pack MCFTA to hear dioxin answers

Kathie Marchlewski , Midland Daily News

05/27/2004

 

 

The top layer of Midland's dioxin-contaminated soil might be removed and replaced. Or maybe not.

Michigan Department of Environmental Quality director Steve Chester gave an overview of the agency's philosophies on dioxin, but never said exactly what's in store for Midland and when.

"I don't see us any closer," said Bill Egerer, organizer of Midland Matters, a resident group mobilized to infuse a local voice into DEQ's local decisions. "There was a lot of head shaking."

He and about a hundred other concerned citizens greeted DEQ staff members at a City of Midland-sposored informational meeting on the dioxin dilemma with signs: "Shame on you DEQ" and "Show me the science."

More than 1,700 people crowded the Midland Center for the Arts by the time the program began.

Chester, along with representatives from The Dow Chemical Co., The City of Midland and Midland County Health Department, entertained questions from the community on problems and proceedings.

"With respect to corrective action, Dow is accountable under federal and state law to remediate that contamination," Chester said.

That means making sure the concentration of dioxin in Midland soil falls below the controversial state standard of 90 parts per trillion, a measurement derived from an algorithm that takes into account potential exposure factors.

The level is a preventive one, Chester said. He explained that while the state's standard is lower than federal criteria of 1,000 ppt, the Environmental Protection Agency has been conducting a reassessment for more than a dozen years.

"It's not likely they will complete this project for a couple more years," he said. When it is complete, he added, the number is expected to be much lower.

"There was a realization that 1,000 parts per trillion was not safe for continued dioxin exposure," Chester said.

He pointed to Midland as the only Michigan locale with residential levels of the contaminant in excess of the state standard. Without cleanup, he said, there will be no finality to the decades-old problem -- the EPA would reassess the area and enforce compliance with the national allowable levels.

Dow believes the 90 ppt is based on flawed assumptions and is not reasonable or relevant, said Susan Carrington, vice president and director for Dow's Michigan dioxin initiative. "What matters is not how much dioxin is in the soil, but whether it causes higher levels of dioxin in people's blood."

But the company must meet the requirements of an operating permit issued last June, including remediation.

The options, Carrington said: Let nature take its course and allow dioxin levels to degrade with time and sunlight. Remove contaminated soil. Limit activities in contaminated areas. Or ban use of contaminated areas altogether.

An outline of work plans is under review by the DEQ and expected to be complete in upcoming weeks.

Included in plans is the development of site-specific criteria based on exposure potential. A bioavailability study, one that would determine instead of assume how much dioxin is absorbed through ingestion of dioxin, also is under consideration.

Those moves could increase the allowable level of dioxin in soil, though Chester said he believes the shift would be slight. He also said it would take time.

"What's frustrating for me is I'm criticized for delaying and not taking action. Then I'm being asked to delay," he said.

Chester focused on soil removal and replacement as a quick-fix option, but mentioned the other remedies as possibilities.

"It's a very common practice," he said of soil removal. "What I'm hearing is that we want finality. We want closure. We want to get to that endpoint sooner rather than later."

The city and Dow City Manager Karl Tomion said he is hopeful the agency will consider the alternate remedies -- revisiting the 90 ppt standard whether with the use of the site-specific criteria or the bioavailability consideration.

"I saw a lot more flexibility," he said. "If we could come up with a level that's 200 to 300 parts per trillion, a lot of the concern people have would disappear."

In previous communication with the city, the DEQ was firm in its intent to stick to its mathematically calculated criteria.

Chester said the DEQ will remain in close contact with the community as it moves ahead and offered to return for further discussion.

Some questions

The City of Midland estimates that as many as 21,000 households and nearly 9,000 residents could be affected by the DEQ’s dioxin testing and remediation requirements. Property owners had a host of questions for the panel of experts at last night’s meeting. Here are the highlights:

Will the contamination affect my property value?
Tom Phillips of Miller, Canfield, Paddock and Stone, P.L.C., said it may or may not, depending on the market. "Time will tell on that," he said, adding that Dow has studied property values along the Tittabawassee River and seen no negative effects. The MDEQ said contamination has not affected values in southeast Michigan.

Do I have to agree to have my property tested?
Phillips answered "yes and no."
"Your initial response can be ‘no,’" Phillips said. But Dow is required to make a "best effort" to test soil that could carry high levels of contamination. The best effort attempt, determined by the DEQ, could include a court order for access.

Is dioxin a health risk?
Mike Krecek, director of the Midland County Health Department, said the answer is unknown. Midland cancer levels from 1995 to 2000 show lower levels than both the state and national averages. There is a small spike shown in 1998, but Krecek attributes the shift to a small sample size. "Generally speaking we’re below the state and the U.S," he said.
Midland does have a higher rate than normal of diabetes, which is linked to dioxin exposure, and the health department is planning to look into the rate, he said. No increase of birth defects has been noted in studies.
"There are still a lot of unknowns," Krecek said.

When will the soil sampling be complete and when will remediation actions be complete?
MDEQ director Steve Chester did not address this question.

Who will pay for the remediation actions in Midland?
Dow has the financial responsibility, Chester said.

What about schools that lie within a contaminated area?
Schools will be held to the 90 ppt level, the same as residential properties, Chester said.

Is the dioxin situation impacting Dow’s business decisions in Midland?
"We’ve been here for 100 years and we hope to be here for another 100 years," said Susan Carrington, of Dow’s Michigan Dioxin Initiative. "It does take resources. That’s a tradeoff with investment anywhere."

Do any other communities have this problem?
Chester said Midland and Tittabawassee River areas are the only communities with levels of dioxin exceeding the state’s standard.
There are other environmental "legacy" issues, he said, but Midland’s and the Kalamazoo River are the largest.
There have been many smaller remediation actions, he added. "There are hundreds of cleanups that have occurred over the last dozen years."

©Midland Daily News 2004

Reader Opinions

Name: Kathy Henry

Date: May, 27 2004 I find it interesting that the writer of this article refers to DEQ science as "philosophies".

I cannot rationalize in my mind why people in Midland would be against cleaning up the 3-4" of topsoil to eliminate the dioxin. It is such an easy solution, and the contamination would be gone. GONE. No more debate or questions. The end. And people are jumping the gun by saying 8000 properties would be affected. You don't know that until the area is tested. Think of all the jobs that would be created in the clean-up project. I sure wish the answer could be that simple for us river residents who's backyards flood with storm water from Midland during heavy rain. The ONLY negative impact I can see is it would cost Dow a few million dollars and shareholders profits would not be as big for a few years. Sounds like a fair trade off for an uncontaminated community to me.

Name: Ryan Bodanyi

Date: May, 27 2004 Although I understand the concern about property values, the fault lies at Dow's doorstep, not the DEQ's. It's Dow's contamination and the fact is, if you don't clean it up it'll still be there, to poison future generations of people and children. And as regards the health impacts of dioxin, it's worth noting the opinion of Dr. Linda Birnbaum, Director of the EPA's Environmental Toxicology Division and one of the world's leading experts on dioxin. She has many things to say about dioxin, both here: http://www.gmasw.com/diox1993.htm and here: http://www.trwnews.net/bb1202.htm, but one passage struck me among too many to quote (from the first link):

"Dioxin is a carcinogen. There are at least 18 studies in mammals, all of which are positive. You may have heard that dioxin is a tumour promoter, and not a carcinogen, because it does not directly interact with the DNA. I think we start to dance on the heads of pins because when I am saying dioxin is a carcinogen here, if you feed animals in long-term studies without adding any known initiator, dioxin by itself still causes an increase in tumours. It does not cause only one type of tumour, it causes tumours at multiple sites. It causes it in both males and females, and it has been detected in rats, mice and hamsters. In addition, work from the U.S. EPA laboratory has indicated that dioxin causes increases of tumours in medaka, at multiple sites and short latency and at high incidence."


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.