Eating fish from river not healthy, DEQ says

Friday, March 10, 2006

State health officials say living and dining along the Tittabawassee River may increase a person's dioxin exposure up to 3,900 percent, a brochure mailed to about 500 riverside resident suggests.

The Department of Environmental Quality brochure, sent to property owners eligible for landscaping and house cleaning because of dioxin, paints a startling picture of what contamination a riverside resident might consume by eating sport fish and wild game from the floodplain.

By eating walleye for dinner one night and deer the next one time a month, a riverside resident would increase dioxin exposure 320 percent over what the average adult experiences, even if the person abided by every state precaution for avoiding contact with the soil, the brochure says.


Change that diet to one meal of catfish and another of deer, deer liver or wild turkey and the exposure rises 1,000 percent higher than that of the average adult, the document says.

The worse-case scenario is a person who eats seven meals of sport fish from the Tittabawassee River a month -- a diet that also would include bottom-feeders such catfish and carp -- and ignores all recommendations for avoiding dioxin. That person would increase exposure to the contaminant 3,900 percent.

State officials say they are trying to spread facts, not fear, about a persistent pollutant that Dow Chemical Co. historically released.

"This isn't a scare tactic," said Robert McCann, spokesman for the DEQ. "What this is doing is presenting some scientific data in a real-world scenario so people can understand it."

Dow officials call the advisory a distortion of the facts -- an objection they raised before state regulators approved the document.

"We don't agree with everything in that brochure, least of all that graph as being a true depiction of the risks of living on the floodplain," said Dow spokesman John C. Musser.

Nevertheless, the chemical giant's operating license requires the company to distribute the brochure to properties with elevated dioxin levels.

Dow officials contend that riverside residents face no "imminent health threat." They argue further that the state's assumptions in developing its advisory -- such as the amount of dioxin absorbed into the blood when a person swallows soil -- are extreme.

State officials stand behind the data. Toxicologists such as Linda Dykema, manager of the Toxicology and Response Section of the state Department of Community Health, say the numbers are based on hard science. While the brochure does not speak to health effects, Dykema said it is reasonable to assume that people with higher exposure have a greater likelihood of developing health problems.

Studies have linked dioxin to reproduction problems, birth defects, diabetes and some forms of cancer in laboratory animals.

We're trying to drive home the point that people should adhere to the fish advisory," Dykema said. "We hope to reach those people who are taking their catch home for dinner."

The state has advised anglers not to eat carp or catfish out of the Tittabawassee River and to limit their consumption of smallmouth bass, white bass and several other species because of dioxin contamination.

The brochure also encourages residents to abide by the state's recommendations for reducing dioxin exposure at home -- such as removing shoes before coming indoors, vacuuming frequently and washing hands and clothes after working outside.

Copies of document are available online at . v

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

For additional articles like this one, go to the Tittabawassee River Watch web site 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.