Dow seeks injunction against protesters in India

Published January 10, 2003 in the Midland (MI) Daily News

Beth Medley Bellor

    The Greenpeace version of events smacked of astounding corporate insensitivity. “Dow sues Bhopal victims,” the word came out.

    As usual, The Dow Chemical Co.’s version of events is somewhat different.

    Dow has been the target of numerous overseas protests since it acquired Union Carbide Corp. as a wholly owned subsidiary. Many in India and elsewhere in the world still hold Union Carbide responsible for the 1984 explosion blamed for the deaths and incapacitation of thousands, and say Dow now bears moral and financial responsibility to the survivors. Dow insists it does not.

    A protest in India a couple of years ago was “fairly violent,” said Dow spokesman John Musser, with shrubs torn out and paint thrown on cars and buildings. Dow filed a request for an injunction with the local court, offering evidence of adverse impact.

    “The court did issue an interim injunction, which provided for assurance that the protesters could not come within 100 feet of the plant and they couldn’t block employees from coming and going freely,” Musser said.

    Since then, the National Campaign for Justice in Bhopal has become the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal and has taken on Greenpeace as a partner. With different protesters, a new injunction was needed. While the most recent protest was peaceful, Musser said, it did interrupt business for two to three hours, and Dow has asked for $10,000 in compensation.

    “Our objective was not to receive financial proceeds from this, it’s to assure the safety of our employees and protect our right to run our business without interruption,” he said.

    This week, Greenpeace has been delivering toxic waste collected from Bhopal — contained in barrels — to Dow in the Netherlands instead.

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.

Seven Dow work groups fail to match competitive bids

Published October 4, 2002 in the Midland (MI) Daily News

Beth Medley Bellor

    Union jobs once again are threatened at The Dow Chemical Co.’s Michigan Operations.

    Nine work groups have been undergoing a cost-competitive evaluation since May. Dow spends 30 days going over outside bids in detail with its workers, then gives them 90 days to match the price.

    Of the nine work groups, only two — the road and yard service and yard crane service — met the outside price. They have 11 and five employees, respectively. They were informed of the decision Thursday and will begin to implement their proposal, which includes merging into one group.

    The seven other work groups and the number of employees include the electrician trade, 15; instrument, 33; machinist, five; millwrights, 33; rigger, three; field fabricators, five; and shop fabricators, 13. Collectively, their proposals fell $2 million short of outside bids for the work.

    “Our long-term objective continues to be to take steps to make Michigan Operations globally competitive. As part of addressing some of the site’s financial issues, we are faced with some very tough personnel decisions,” said Gary Veurink, vice president and site leader.

    “Unfortunately, as a site, we continue to be faced with significant performance challenges and we must become globally competitive to attract new business investment,” he added.

    Darrell Debenham, human relations business partner/labor relations manager for Dow, planned to meet with leaders of United Steelworkers Local 12075 at 10 a.m. today. “I think the big goal now is for Dow to try to work with the union to try to minimize the impact on employees,” he said.

    Outsourcing and comparative analysis have weighed heavily on the union for some time. Kent Holsing, Steelworkers vice president, was discouraged by Thursday’s notification.

    “It’s devastating. With what they’ve done, at this point they’ve pretty much wiped out our maintenance,” he said.

    “People took real ownership of their jobs,” he added.

    When noting the union’s concerns, minimizing impact came up but safety was first on Holsing’s list — both of workers and the community. The Steelworkers have maintained there are safety issues with some contractors.

    Outsourcing will begin in 30 days, and affected employees will be moved to other jobs on site. They have six months to choose new permanent positions, Debenham said, and rate retention provides them with their same pay for three years even if the jobs they move to pay less.

    It is possible attrition will allow the absorption of the roughly 110 jobs, he said.

    “If as we go through this transition we have too many people, the people who get laid off would be the most junior employees in the plant,” Debenham said. Those most likely would be BSEs, or basic skilled employees, who typically have worked at Dow for three years or less.

Residents air concerns about dioxin study

Published October 4, 2002 in the Midland (MI) Daily News

Beth Medley Bellor

    FREELAND — Many questions swirled throughout a four-hour meeting about dioxin Thursday night. Most conflict arose regarding a proposed health study and who might fund it — The Dow Chemical Co., the likely source of dioxin contamination.

    The crowd numbered 200, including state, county and township officials, area environmentalists, a couple of legislators and three Tittabawassee Township police officers in the back. No one from The Dow Chemical Co. was apparent.

    Dave Johnson, deputy director for public health and chief medical executive of the Michigan Department of Community Health, outlined his agency’s proposal for a comprehensive dioxin exposure and health effects study. Specifically, it would address whether blood sample levels of dioxin in Midland and Tittabawassee River floodplain residents are higher than those of other people, whether there is a correlation between blood sample levels and dioxin levels in the soil, and whether Midland and floodplain residents have elevated rates of diseases scientifically linked to dioxins.

    The proposal includes oversight by a scientific advisory committee, with scientists nominated by the MDCH, Department of Environmental Quality, Dow and the citizens who petitioned for the health consultation that got sampling started. A fifth scientist would be chosen in consultation with the other four.

    Oversight also would come from a stakeholder advisory committee. “All of these meetings that they would conduct should be open meetings,” Johnson added.

    Sally Regelski said she doesn’t like Dow representation on the boards, but she didn’t know if others agreed. Others shouted and applauded in response.

    “The draft proposal really is intended as a draft,” Johnson said. He pointed out that while some feel strongly that community representation should exclude Dow, others consider Dow part of the community.

    David Riddick said he doesn’t understand how Dow, with a clear stake in the outcome of a health study, could be allowed to fund it.

    “To me, this is backwards. This is not the way you do these things,” he said. It is the state’s job to investigate, he said, and if Dow is found culpable, take the company’s money then.

    Dioxin sampling is expensive — about $1,000 per sample. In many cases, samples are taken at three depths at each site. Andrew Hogarth, assistant division chief of the DEQ’s remediation and redevelopment division, estimated after the meeting that Phase I and II soil sampling has cost his agency $300,000.

    Area environmentalists, who petitioned for the health consultation that led to soil sampling, were angry that they learned from a Freedom of Information Act request that Dow representatives flew to Atlanta in April and presented the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry with a proposal for a health study.

    “The fact that they proposed a study is absolutely fact,” Johnson said.

    However, he said, the DEQ and MDCH took that idea, developed it more fully and clarified what would need to happen to make it work — most importantly, what kind of input would be needed.

    “I have no problem with Dow funding this. Polluters should pay,” said Michelle Hurd-Riddick of the Lone Tree Council, which offered a counterproposal.

    The environmental group is asking the ATSDR and MDCH to convene a conversation among stakeholders to review sampling thus far and recommend further sampling; review data on other exposure pathways and recommend further work; help develop recommendations to reduce long-term and short-term exposures; explore the merits of an exposure study for local residents; and explore the merits of developing a health registry for local residents.

    Diane Hebert, one of the petitioners, was upset there were 12 drafts of the health study before she had the opportunity to become involved.

    “We have begged for participation,” she said. She asked for help from legislators, saying, “Dow has not proven that all the dioxin is historical.”

    She urged the audience to oppose any study Dow has developed, saying maybe if she had been involved from the beginning she would feel differently. “This is how I would like to give my comments,” she said, tearing up paper and dropping it on the front table.

    New voices also were heard.

    Midlander Carol Chisholm said, “I don’t trust Dow, and I don’t want them involved in anything to do with this problem.”

    Diane Dalton, an educator in Saginaw County, asked whether the state has pursued grant money for a health study, or other sources besides Dow.

    Yes, Johnson said.

    “The answers aren’t easy when you’re talking about millions and millions of dollars like this,” he said. “We’ll continue to explore other sources of funding.”

    This didn’t please John Taylor of River Watch, who asked whether it was true that if Dow hadn’t stepped forward and offered funding, the ATSDR would be paying for a study.

    Alan Yarborough of the ATSDR said his agency normally funds projects in the range of a couple of hundred thousand dollars. “Currently, within our budget we do not fund any multimillion-dollar studies such as being envisioned here.”

    In addition, this is earlier in the process than ATSDR usually conducts studies, he said. Generally the agency waits until diseases are shown to be statistically high, and there is not yet information linking local dioxin contamination to disease, he explained.

    River Watch meets at 6 p.m. the third Monday of each month at Green Point Environmental Learning Center in Saginaw County, and can be reached at (989) 781-4518.

    Written comments on the proposed health study can be sent to David R. Wade, Ph.D., Division of Environmental and Occupational Epidemiology, Michigan Department of Community Health, P.O. Box 30195, Lansing, MI 48909.

Dioxin warnings greet Freeland residents

Published August 28, 2002 in the Midland Daily News

Beth Medley Bellor

    BAY CITY — A river runs through Midland … and deposits contamination in Freeland.

    Staff from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality met with reporters and others at the Saginaw Bay office Tuesday to offer more information about dioxin in the Tittabawassee River floodplain. On Monday, the DEQ released preliminary data from recent soil sampling; a full report is expected this fall.

    Dioxins are byproducts from certain chemical processes, and The Dow Chemical Co. is considered far and away the most likely source.

    “Below Midland, the concentrations go up substantially,” said Andrew Hogarth, acting division chief for the DEQ’s Environmental Response Division.

    In many locations, the contamination was highest at the deepest levels tested, he added. “It implies to us this was a very historical kind of problem.”

    Dow began chlorine chemistry processes about 1915 and did not begin wastewater treatment until 1937. It now has the country’s most restrictive permit for dioxin emissions.

    The DEQ has been taking soil samples inside and outside of a 100-year floodplain for the Tittabawassee — the area expected to be hit by a flood large enough to occur once a century. That led people to wonder how much of the dioxin contamination came from the area’s disastrous 1986 flood.

    “It looks like this could have preceded this flood,” Hogarth said.

    The flood in 1986 was much larger than a 100-year flood, he explained, and areas outside the 100-year floodplain — such as Thomas Township’s Imerman Park — have levels consistent with background contamination. Because dioxin also comes from activities such as burning in barrels, virtually everywhere has at least some contamination.

    Of particular concern now is Freeland Festival Park, which had levels ranging from 1,500 parts per trillion just below the surface to 3,400 ppt in a layer 12 to 15 inches down. The DEQ’s residential cleanup standard is 90 ppt.

    There is no playground equipment in the park, but it sometimes gets heavy use, particularly for Freeland’s walleye festival. Now visitors will see signs warning of dioxin contamination.

    The Michigan Department of Community Health and Saginaw County Parks and Recreation Commission worked together on the signs, which note that children are especially at risk, and that their exposure to the soil should be minimized. Visitors are encouraged to read the gold brochure available there, which was developed by the DEQ, MDCH, MDA and the Saginaw County and Midland County health departments.

    “I’m not saying people shouldn’t play in the park every day,” Hogarth said. “I’m saying that’s a decision they have to make.”

    Anyone fretting that the state is going to come in with bulldozers and stir up the floodplain should stop.

    “I doubt very much that it would be feasible to move all that soil,” Hogarth said. If indeed something beyond education is to be done, covering with clean soil is a more likely option.

    In Tittabawassee Township, worries about dioxin fall on the shoulders of an ad hoc committee established in June. It is expected to make recommendations about the park at the township board’s next meeting Sept. 10.

    Also Tuesday, some objected to a proposal for Dow to fund a health study.

    Keith Harrison, executive director of the Michigan Environmental Science Board, is involved with the study as director of the DEQ’s Office of Special Environmental Projects.

    “There’s really no other source of money,” Harrison said. The state is sifting through budget cuts and the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry said up front it didn’t have the funding.

    The money — once a university’s proposal is chosen and the amount is determined — might be put into escrow to allay some concern, he said. As far as the makeup of the advisory board preparing the proposal request, each stakeholder can recommend three scientists, of whom one will be chosen. The petitioners who requested the health assessment that led to the sampling have been treated as one stakeholder; Dow is another. State and federal agencies also are involved.

Dow: Results ‘surprising’

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.

Dow breaks ground on plant expansion

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

Beth Medley Bellor

    Michigan Operations is a hopping place.

    In addition to a huge new incinerator, construction is under way on an expanded plant at The Dow Chemical Co.’s Midland manufacturing site. And it will support the coolest of products — glowing plastic.

    The company recently broke ground to expand its manufacturing facility for light-emitting polymers (LEPs). The materials are essential to the production of polymeric light-emitting diode (pLED) displays.

    pLEDs are one class of organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs), which allow bright, high-contrast, low-voltage displays. LEP materials such as Dow’s are the critical light-emitting material in an emissive display and represent the equivalent of the backlight and color filters in a typical liquid-crystal display (LCD). They come in a variety of colors and can be used for everything from instrument panels to cell phones. Eventually they will show up in larger displays for desktop monitors, notebook computers, flat-panel TVs and other consumer products.

    Up to 18 new Midland-based jobs will be created in Dow’s Advanced Electronic Materials (AEM) business over the next five to 10 years, eight salaried and 10 hourly. It is estimated the project will have local purchases and construction contracts of $1.8 million with a peak contractor labor force of 35 people. The expansion will be designed, constructed and operated by Dow Haltermann Custom Processing, a part of Dow’s Custom & Fine Chemicals global business unit.

    “We are proud that Dow AEM has chosen our Midland location for this significant investment,” said Gary Veurink, Michigan Operations vice president and site director. “This expansion positions Dow’s Michigan Operations as a globally competitive hub for the display materials industry, and we are confident that this new growth will help Dow continue to attract new business opportunities to Midland.”

    The first phase is scheduled to be completed during the fourth quarter so Dow can begin manufacturing LEPs there by the end of 2002. Construction of a second phase of the expansion should begin yet this year, with the facility online by the third quarter of 2003.

Annual meeting draws protests, questions

Published May 10, 2002 in the Midland (MI) Daily News

Beth Medley Bellor

    Like last year, The Dow Chemical Co.’s 105th annual shareholders meeting drew protesters.

    Like last year, the main theme was the 1984 gas explosion of a Union-Carbide-owned plant in Bhopal, India.

    Like last year, board chairman William S. Stavropolous expressed empathy for victims of the “horrific event,” but drew the line at accepting and moral or legal responsibility.

    Protests began early, with an 11:30 a.m. gathering timed for noon TV news shows. About 40 people gathered, some holding signs such as “20,000 dead: Responsible Care?” and “Dowable standards = racism.” A replica of a memorial statue that stands in Bhopal was unveiled.

    Rick Hind, legislative director of Greenpeace, said Dow should be liable for Bhopal just as it is for asbestos. He held aloft a copy of “Five Past Midnight in Bhopal,” a book that will be released in June, with half the royalties going to a Bhopal clinic.

    With great fanfare, including chanting, the group crossed the street to the Grace A. Dow Memorial Library to present the book to the library. Hind offered another copy to Stavropolous during the question and answer portion of the annual meeting, but was allowed only to hand it off to a public affairs staffer.

    Protests just before the annual meeting drew a counterprotest of one youth with a crude cardboard sign indicating protesters “R stupid.” Two of the younger protesters argued with him, saying they were following the rules they had been given and asking him to be respectful.

    Several people asked questions related to Bhopal during the meeting, centering around what Dow planned to do to clean up continuing contamination.

    Stavropolous’ consistent reply was that the lawsuits were handled with $470 million put in trust, plus an additional $90 million in a hospital trust. Dow is considering some sort of gesture “as an outgrowth of doing business there,” but he said it ends there.

    “The trust is there to deal with these issues and we are not liable,” Stavropolous said.

    Other questions related to responsible biotechnology, sustainability, property taxes in Midland, political influence, outsourcing in Midland, contract negotiations in Texas, dioxin and whether the company should suspend paying dividends for 10 years or so and plow that money into research and development.

    Stavropolous was ready to move on to refreshments, but had to have his attention called back for still two more questions, one an annual plea for consideration from an Ohio shareholder who believes Dow owes him for work he did for another company, and another request for assistance with negotiations from a Texas union member who traveled 27 hours to speak at the meeting.

    The draft public health assessment on dioxin in Midland and the Tittabawassee River floodplain drew counter statements.

    Terry Miller, chairman of the Lone Tree Council — a “small but persistent” environmental organization, as he called it — sought the company’s cooperation with the assessment.

    Oswald Anders of Midland urged the company not to bend to “environmental scaremongers and politically tuned regulators” and offered several estimates of just how much dioxin would be required to harm a person. Taking information from the World Health Organization, he calculated that even eating the most contaminated dirt in Midland, from sites with about 600 parts per trillion of dioxin, people could safely add 44 ounces of soil to their daily diets. “The whole issue is baseless,” Anders proclaimed.

Dow uses reactor for research

Published March 19, 2002 in the Midland (MI) Daily News

Beth Medley Bellor

What’s it like staring into a nuclear reactor?

Kind of peaceful. The lights make the water a light blue that looks as if there should be fish swimming in it. Way down at the bottom are 78 fuel rods that will go to work in a minute and when that happens, the resulting glow also will be blue — not green like on “The Simpsons,” the nearby scientists grouse. They’re not terribly fond of the way the TV show portrays nuclear science, it seems.

The scene is The Dow Chemical Co.’s nuclear research reactor. Yes, the company has one; no, we’re not going to tell you which building it’s in. Suffice it to say three people look up when you step in the front door.

It’s a rarity. Only a few dozen such reactors are in the United States, none at other chemical companies, which offers Dow a considerable competitive advantage when testing new products.

The TRIGA nuclear reactor — Testing Research Isotope production, General Atomics — produces a maximum of 300 thermal kilowatts of power, tiny by power plant standards.

“We don’t use it for electricity, we use it for research,” said Ward Rigot, reactor supervisor. He holds degrees in chemistry and nuclear engineering and has been in charge of the reactor for two decades.

“We put 9,500 experiments through the reactor last year,” he said. “It’s another tool in our tool chest for providing information for our researchers.”

The work is called neutron activation analysis. The technology has been around since 1936, even before reactors. “It’s a very mature science, very well understood,” Rigot said.

Analysis allows Dow to check chemical and physical properties of matter, for example, testing for trace impurities down to parts per billion. The reactor irradiates samples, and calculations and charting are done in a nearby room.

Standing in that room pointing at a graph on a screen, Rigot said, “This is where we actually do the majority of the benefit for the customer.”

Employees who want work done fill out a TRIGA activation request form. With a reactor in house, sometimes the turnaround is as little as a day.

“The thing I like about it most is we see so many parts of The Dow Chemical Co.,” Rigot said. “I can name every business we have at Dow and we support that business.”

That ranges from “old school” materials such as plastics to cutting-edge research such as SiLK semiconductor dielectric resins and polymer light emitting diode technologies, both of which have exacting standards for purity.

Dow even is involved in pharmaceutical testing, but for atomic particles called ligands, not radioactivity. “It’s somewhat counterintuitive,” Rigot admitted.

A November article in Science magazine mentioned work on a “smart bomb,” but not the kind you might think. Dow helped characterize a ligand for cancer research.

“It’s one of those quantum steps you see in research. We’re happy with the small part we played in that,” he said.

The reactor is sometimes known as a swimming pool-type reactor. It is a light water reactor, as opposed to one using heavy water.

It is 21 feet deep and 6 1/2 feet across, sunk into the ground. Including the plastic-lined grate that covers it, a few controls and the “fission pole” — a $4,000 isotope lifting assembly that looks like it could yank steelhead out of a river — the whole deal easily could fit in the average garage.

The core is 19 inches high and 22 inches across. The outer ring is a carbon ring which reflects neutrons back into the core and minimizes the amount of energy needed.

The core temperature reaches only about 480 degrees. The water temperature is about 86 degrees. It can’t exceed 140 degrees, but that’s not for safety — it’s because ion exchange resins break down beyond that.

Water is the coolant and the primary shielding. Standing by the reactor during a short demonstration, Rigot said the radiation level was 10 millirem per hour, “Which means I could only stand here for 500 hours a year before I got my maximum exposure.”

He wears a special quarter-sized tag that will beep if levels get dangerously high, but he doesn’t worry. “People in other parts of the country who are exposed to more background radiation probably get more than I do.”

Those would be people who live at higher elevations, or in areas with high radon concentrations. While he is allowed 5,000 millirem a year exposure because of his occupation, the Dow standard is the same as for the general public — 500. He has accumulated 400 over his lifetime, he said.

The vast majority of the isotopes they deal with have half-lives of less than one minute. Indeed, shortly after the demonstration reaction, the blue glow fades, much like a TV screen fading.
The reactor’s redundant controls include both computers and hard wiring to monitor power, temperature and other levels. When it is not operating, it is in shutdown mode.

A story noting the reactor’s startup was published in the Midland Daily News on Aug. 10, 1967.

“This is the last time we were on the front page of the Midland Daily News, and I view this as a good thing,” Rigot said.

In 1989, the reactor was relicensed for another 20 years. The mayor’s office gets copies of all the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s reports.

The facility was upgraded around 1990 and is inspected about once a year. There are internal audits and peer review audits, lasting several days. The reactor’s four licensed reactor operators continually requalify; one of them has worked there since 1969.

AG seeks millions from Radian

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.