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Michigan Neighborhood Contaminated with Dioxin, Dow Blamed

(Beyond Pesticides, June 2, 2008) Residential properties in Saginaw, Michigan contain unacceptably high levels of dioxin contamination, according to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region 5. Soil from the Riverside Boulevard area, a neighborhood along the Lower Tittabawassee River and downstream from the Dow Chemical Company’s manufacturing plant, was recently sampled and analyzed by EPA and evaluated in collaboration with Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) and the Michigan Department of Community Health. Past waste disposal practices, fugitive emissions and incineration at the plant have resulted in on- and off-site contamination of nearby waterways. Dow’s manufacturing of chlorine-based products and other chemicals results in dioxins, as well as furans, chlorobenzenes and heavy metals, as byproducts.

According to the Chicago Tribune, soil samples “from one yard was 23 times higher than what the EPA considers reasonable safe.” Former administrator for EPA’s Region 5, Mary Gade, had been aggressively pushing Dow to properly cleanup the area, until she was forced out, states the Chicago Tribune. Dow’s previous dioxin cleanup of the 300 residences included cleaning inside the homes and laying wood chips over the contaminated soil around the homes, which is believed to be ineffective in protecting people and wildlife from dioxin exposure.

U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, D-RI, stated during a Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing that the recent ousting of Ms. Wade “raise[s] warning signs about the credibility of the EPA and the agency’s commitment to ‘protect the environment and our health,” according to the Orlando Sentinel. Senator Amy Klobuchar, D-MN, is quoted as stating that this “seems to be a clear case where policy was driven by politics.”

“This cleanup is a high priority as this dioxin contamination is in a residential neighborhood,” said EPA Region 5 Superfund Division Director Richard Karl in a press statement. “We will continue to work with the state agencies to evaluate results of sampling from other residential areas and consider appropriate actions.”

Although EPA states that the recent sampling project was prompted by Dow’s February 2008 disclosure to the agencies of an elevated dioxin level found in a residential soil sample collected by Dow in November 2007, the Chicago Tribune and Orlando Sentinel state that Ms. Wade had been working to get Dow to clean up the 50 miles below its plant for over a year. Under the company’s Michigan operating license that requires Dow to conduct corrective action for historic releases, MDEQ has been requiring Dow to conduct floodplain soil, riverbank and sediment sampling in and along the Tittabawassee River downstream of Midland.

Dow’s Midland facility is a 1,900-acre chemical manufacturing plant. EPA and Dow negotiated the terms of the cleanup of three industrial sites Tittabawassee and Saginaw Rivers downstream of its Midland, Michigan, facility last year. Ms. Wade then ordered more dredging, which showed dioxin levels along a Saginaw park to be 1.6 million parts per trillion, the highest amount ever found in the U.S., according to a May 2nd article in the Chicago Tribune. In January, 2008, talks between EPA and Dow ended unsuccessfully when EPA determined that Dow’s cleanup offers were not comprehensive enough. The residential cleanup site is the first time Dow has been told by EPA to cleanup dioxin in a residential area near its Midland plant.

The Tribune’s May 2 article paints quite a picture of what it is like to live in the area: “Many local residents see Dow as a lifeline in a region plagued by plant closings and layoffs. But all 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.”

Dioxins are a family of chemicals that have been linked to cancer, weakened immune systems and reproductive problems. The teratogenic (i.e. ability to cause developmental malformations) and mutagenic compounds are not only a byproduct of manufacturing processes but are contained in one of Dow’s most used herbicides, 2,4-D. 2,4-D is commonly found in weed and feed lawn products and is used widely for vegetation control in agriculture as well. Advocates have cited Dow as a leader in obscuring the science and weakening the regulation of these and other deadly chemicals. Beyond Pesticides is working to make consumers aware of the dangers of these products and hold companies accountable for their wrongdoings.


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