Dow dioxins: study critics seek results

JUSTIN ENGEL, THE SAGINAW NEWS, NOVERMBER 9, 2006
Terry Miller has had enough of the sampling, the testing and the planning. He wants action.
A leader of the Bay City-based Lone Tree Council environmental group, Miller voiced his concern during Wednesday’s quarterly dioxin community meeting at the Horizons Conference Center in Saginaw Township.
The gathering featured slide presentations detailing progress of ongoing contamination tests conducted in the mid-Michigan region.
It also included more detailed analysis from David H. Garabrant, a University of Michigan medicine and epidemiology professor who disclosed the majority of the results from a $15 million dioxin exposure probe in August.
“With all due respect, we don’t need to hear from Dr. Garabrant again,” Miller said. “We would like to hear about successful remediated sites to see what can be done.”
Miller criticized members of Ann Arbor Technical Services Inc., which Dow Chemical Co. contracted to conduct soil samplings along a six-mile stretch of the Tittabawassee River.
Earlier in the meeting, which drew about 70 people, Peter Simon, project manager, explained the early findings of the study.
“Why weren’t remedial techniques used during the evaluation of that site?” Miller asked him.
Simon said the plan calls for a cleanup strategy but only after researchers better understand some of the river’s characteristics. “We need to be careful before we decide what we do,” he said.
Workers have collected 2,600 samples from 600 locations along the confluence of the Tittabawassee and Chippewa rivers, logging more than 6,000 hours of work.
“We’ve been busy peeling back the layers of the onion (of soil sediment along the river) to see more than 100 years ago,” Simon said.
Some results are available.
Early analysis shows “little contamination” in the portion of the stretch considered a floodplain, he said. The majority of the contaminants are under layers of soil in other ends of the river, he said.
Simon said the purpose of the study is to determine the best strategy to prevent the contaminated sediment from moving downriver.
Miller wasn’t the only audience member critical of the meeting’s presenters.
Kathy Henry, a 48-year-old Freeland resident and a chief litigant in a class-action lawsuit filed against Dow in March 2003, panned what she called “downplayed results” in Garabrant’s study. His findings show age is the largest factor in determining the amount of dioxin blood levels, not the location of a homeowner’s property.
Scientists have linked dioxin, a group of contaminants present downstream and downwind of Dow’s Midland complex, to some forms of cancer, reproductive problems and weakened immune systems in laboratory animals.
The study shows people living in the Tittabawassee River floodplain near Dow had 32 parts of dioxin for every trillion parts of blood compared to 25 parts, around the national average, in those living in a study group in the Jackson and Calhoun regions.
Garabrant said the difference has more to do with age than location. People living around Dow are older than those living in the control site.
Henry said such observations underplay the dangers of the dioxin levels.
She said the information should raise concerns for mid-Michigan residents in the same way the dangers of secondhand smoke and lead poisoning from overseas-built toys raise alarm for children.
“(The study shows), ‘It’s just a little bit; it’s no big deal,’ ” Henry said. “It’s morally wrong (to say that). Dioxin can cause cancer.”
Garabrant said the data speak for themselves. “It is what it is,” he told her.
Justin Engel is a staff writer for The Saginaw News. You may reach him at 776-9691.

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