Published January 24, 2002 in the Midland (MI) Daily News
Beth Medley Bellor
Failure to contain hazardous wastes while working at The Dow Chemical Co. could cost Radian International LLC as much as $4 million.
Gary Tuma of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality confirmed that he served papers on the company’s Southfield office around noon Tuesday.
Attorney General Jennifer M. Granholm and the DEQ are seeking statutory penalties of $25,000 per day for hazardous waste violations and $10,000 per day for air pollution violations, for a period that stretches about a year. Ingham County Circuit Court has been asked to assess the fines.
“Cleanup was the first priority,” Granholm said. “But when a company puts its workers’ health, the community’s health and the health of the environment at risk, just cleaning up the problem is not enough. By asking the court to assess strict civil penalties, we’re sending a message that the state’s law enforcement community won’t look the other way when it comes to breaking environmental laws.”
Dow hired Radian to dry and safely burn hazardous wastes from the wastewater treatment facility at Michigan Operations. Treated water goes into tertiary ponds — “T-ponds” — before it goes into the Tittabawassee River. Solids made of sand and dead “scrubbing” organisms were to be dredged, pressed and dried by Radian.
A complaint filed by the attorney general’s office says defects in Radian’s system caused black, powdery wastes to be discharged regularly into the air and leaked onto the ground and roadways at Dow. DEQ staff inspected Dow on Nov. 13, 1998, and observed a powdery substance on concrete around the 23 Building and in as many as 50 storage containers.
According to the attorney general, tests by the DEQ confirmed the wastes contained high levels of dioxin. Granholm alleges that employees were exposed to the wastes on three different occasions: a break in a press feed line on March 25, 1998; a fire in the 530 tank on July 26, 1998; and elevated temperatures that caused a potential fire hazard in the same tank on Oct. 25, 1998.
In addition, during the DEQ’s Nov. 13 visit, staff members observed traffic driving through the waste material, including a bus transporting elementary schoolchildren on a tour.
Dow entered into a consent order with the DEQ on Nov. 19, 1998, to immediately clean up the wastes at the site. However, the incineration required by the agreement is inefficient, and Dow is seeking a variance to put the material — dead scrubbing organisms — into the Salzburg landfill instead. A public hearing on that issue is scheduled for 7 p.m. Feb. 20 at the Midland Center for the Arts. A document resolving Dow’s role in the T-ponds issue is being prepared by the DEQ, and because it involves air quality there will be a public meeting, probably in March.
An official at Radian’s Midland office was unable to provide comment this morning. Radian now is part of URS Corp., an engineering firm headquartered in San Francisco. Radian formerly was owned by Dow.
The proposed fines are less than they could have been. Knowingly endangering the health of a human being is a felony that carries a penalty of two years in prison and/or $250,000. A DEQ official acknowledged back in 1999, during the witness interview process, that such endangerment is difficult to prove. The attorney general’s office confirmed this morning that civil action was taken because there was not enough evidence for criminal action.