Published August 27, 2002 in the Midland (MI) Daily News
Beth Medley Bellor
State testing for dioxin in the Tittabawassee River floodplain has produced results that range anywhere from normal background level to a dramatic 1,500 parts per trillion — and higher in deeper soils. And for the first time, a food warning comes with the news.
The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality released the preliminary results from its Phase II sampling on Monday. Flood plain soils were sampled between April and June of this year at 12 sites from upstream of Midland down to the confluence of the Tittabawassee and Saginaw rivers.
While a full evaluation has not been prepared, the data will stand, said Patricia Spitzley of the DEQ.
“I think it is for information. People are concerned. They’re worried,” she said. “The information we’re putting out is pretty concrete.”
The final report is expected this fall. In the meantime, according to the DEQ:
Dioxin concentrations upstream of Midland ranged from 1 to 12 parts per trillion in total toxic equivalence (ppt TEQ) — consistent with statewide background dioxin concentrations. The DEQ’s current residential cleanup standard is 90 ppt.
Samples downstream but outside the flood plain ranged from 1 to 5 ppt TEQ, also within background levels.
All sample locations within the floodplain had elevated levels. The highest-concentration surface sample, 0 to 1 inch below the surface, was 1,500 ppt in Freeland Festival Park. That location also had the highest overall concentration, 3,400 ppt in the 12- to 15-inch layer. Advisories will be placed in the park.
Samples were analyzed for polychlorinated biphenyl compounds, but PCBs were not found to contribute significantly to the dioxin TEQ.
Eggs from chickens that free range on floodplain soil were found to have elevated concentrations of dioxin. The DEQ has said these eggs should not be eaten, and food products from other animals and plants raised in the floodplain also might be affected.
On Friday, there was a DEQ mailing to the 11 residents whose soil was sampled. Monday, packets were to be mailed out to about 2,500 floodplain-area residents.
“The levels are surprising,” said Jeff Feerer, environmental health and safety project leader of The Dow Chemical Co. “It’s very possible that this material is from historical Dow operations.”
Dow began working with chlorinated chemicals about 1915, he said, and did not begin wastewater treatment until 1937. “We didn’t even measure dioxins very accurately until about 15, 20 years ago,” he said.
Park levels 12 inches down cannot necessarily be traced to long-ago company activity, Feerer said.
“That’s not undisturbed floodplain,” he said. “I remember when they built that park. They just took bulldozers and flattened the whole thing.”
The egg advisory did not seem to surprise him.
“Well, they eat a lot of dirt when they pick up their grain,” he said. “If they found dioxin elevated in the eggs, that would make sense given what we know about dioxin.”
Dow has been saying for a while that food is the primary exposure route, he noted. A possible next step — a health study — has come under fire from some environmentalists.
“I really think the next step is to do some kind of comprehensive health and exposure study,” Feerer said. “The agencies approached us some time ago about paying for this.”
The agencies include the Michigan Department of Community Health and the federal agency that has directed it to study dioxin in reaction to a citizen petition, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Diseases Registry.
According to Feerer, a group of scientists, yet to be determined, would send proposal requests to universities. The scientists would choose one of the universities; Dow would pay the projected cost with no strings attached regarding the study’s outcome.
The Lone Tree Council has been leading the opposition, issuing a press release in protest and offering to act as the contact point for a meeting with state officials, in a letter signed by more than 50 area residents.
“After Dow repeatedly denied responsibility for the dioxin, opposed further soil sampling and attempted to influence public opinion against a comprehensive health study — it will now fund it?” asked Terry Miller, chairman. “It appears to be a final environmental sham by a lame duck governor — and if I lived along the Tittabawassee I would be incensed.”
Diane Hebert, a Midlander and one of the petitioners, described any proposal developed without citizen input as “meaningless and a slap in the face.”
Lone Tree meets at 6 p.m. the third Monday of each month at Green Point Nature Center in Saginaw County.