Dioxin testing still eyed in Midland

Published October 24, 2002 in the Midland (MI) Daily News

Beth Medley Bellor

    Don’t think that because the focus has shifted downriver, no one is talking about testing of soils for dioxin in Midland.

    At a Tuesday night meeting to discuss a draft operating license for The Dow Chemical Co.’s Michigan Operations, Jim Sygo of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality told the crowd of about 65 people, “There’s still dioxin investigation activities that need to take place.”

    The DEQ was careful to note the work plan for Midland is conceptual and subject to change. At this time it would focus on neighborhoods closest to the northern and eastern edges of Dow — essentially, downwind. The areas would be broadly prescreened to identify the areas of highest concentration. Those would be sampled in detail to determine the worst cases, which would be compared to the remediation standard. The DEQ then would evaluate the significance for surrounding neighborhoods and conduct any additional sampling necessary to determine remediation needs.

    Reaction ran a broad spectrum, from those who still are unhappy with previous testing to those who wonder why the state doesn’t leave the city alone.

    Midlander Diane Hebert reiterated a long-held complaint that while 1996 sampling showed several sites exceeded the DEQ’s cleanup standards, the followup in 1998 used Dow’s corporate headquarters as a surrogate site.

    “These were schools and parks. Yet this is 2002 and you have not returned to the community,” she said. “When do we get full community sampling and some kind of interim measures to protect people?”

    Sygo said he believes some of that will be addressed by the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, which asked the Michigan Department of Community Health to write a public health consultation on dioxin contamination in Midland in response to petitions by Hebert and others. A consultation on the Tittabawassee River floodplain also was written, and the MDCH is busy compiling written comments and responses to both. In addition, a draft health study, likely to be funded by Dow, is expected to be put out for public comment soon through the MDCH.

    Hebert wants immediate sampling and fingerprinting of the dioxin contamination — then, she said, the DEQ will have evidence with which to ask Dow to pay for more sampling. The DEQ has been getting a bulk rate for dioxin samples, but they still cost $500 to $600 each to test.

    “The delay is that we need a license that calls for a corrective action program, Diane,” Sygo said. “We need those authorities in the license to do that.”

    If all proceeds smoothly, the new license might take effect by the end of the year. The public comment period ends Dec. 9.

    What the criterion for Midland will be is in question. Dow has suggested a site-specific risk assessment that could produce a figure considerably higher than the state’s generic 90 parts per trillion, but the DEQ has not agreed.

    Midlander Melissa Whitney said she remained frustrated there is more action in Saginaw after one year, when residents first became widely aware of dioxin contamination downriver, than in Midland after 20 years.

    “I think we could use some help from our health department,” she said. “Barstow Woods has got 125 parts per trillion and people walk their dogs there.”

    Some disagreed. Don Miller, a 48-year Midland resident, said his family from his four children down to his two great-grandchildren all grew up here, played sports in the dirt and are healthy.

    “You say dioxin is a risk; what is it?” he asked, appearing to speak to the environmentalists seated up front. “I just can’t see it.”

    He said he thought further sampling around Midland would be a waste, but he was interested in Freeland Festival Park — where levels are as high as 3,400 ppt — and suggested growing vegetables there and analyzing them for dioxin uptake.

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