The Dow-funded University of Michigan study into dioxin exposure of Midland residents has presented first results of blood tests to a confused, derisive and angry audience of locals whose hearts are pumping Dow’s dioxins round their bodies.
The tone was set by a U-M scientist Alfred Franzblau, who told the audience that carrying a measurable dioxin load was “just a fact of life of being alive in the 21st century in the United States.”
Garabrant: Leader of the “study”
Franzblau: Dioxin is a fact of life
People expressed fears about their health and the impact of dioxin contamination on he value of their homes, however they will get no help from the study whose aims do not include positively establishing links between health problems with dioxin, or dioxin and Dow.
It will measure levels of dioxin in people’s blood and then, if people in certain areas are found to be more contaminated than others, it will ask “why”.
A local doctor, James Brasseur, thanked the study leader Professor David Garabrant for sending him his blood test results. “The only problem with that,” he said, is I didn’t have my blood drawn.”
“Unless I was whisked up into a flying saucer and had all that stuff done.” Brasseur added, to cries of “junk science” from the audience.
The study seems to have been according to a peculiar set of criteria. For example people who own their homes will have their blood, dust and soil tested. But people who rent will not be eligible for dust and soil testing. Garabrant gave a typically specious reply to those who questioned why this was so, and you can read it in the extended article by clicking the link at the foot of this item.
Finally, when some people, who felt they had been considerably exposed to the contaminated waters of the Tittibassawee asked why they had not been included in the study, Garabrant said that it would bias the results. He strongly advised against having blood privately tested because, said he, the tests are costly and difficult to interpret.
What is not very difficult to interpret are the motives of Garabrant and his team, nor the University of Michigan which receives significant funding from Dow.
Dow had directly contributed over $10 million to the University by September 2000, placing it among the top 26 all-time donors to the University. The company has endowed numerous professorships in such fields as sustainable science, business, chemical engineering and public pealth; it sits on the University’s External Advisory Board; it sponsored events such as a 2002 Summer School for Chemical Engineering faculty in Boulder, Colo. Two buildings on campus bear the Dow name; the University’s William Davidson Institute has completed credit risk assessments and developed growth ideas for Dow; more than 600 University alumni work for the company. MICHIGAN DAILY
Midland and Bhopal ought to be twin-cities. Both were glad to play host to two large chemical corporations (now merged into one). Both focused on the jobs and revenue these companies brought to town and played down the dangers posed by careless handling and disposal of chemicals.
The difference is that Bhopal now knows the true cost of turning a blind eye. For Midland the discovery and the dying looks likely to be long, slow and painful.
DIOXIN STUDY BLOOD RESULTS BACK – AND CONFUSING
Kelly Jerome, Midland Daily News 03/11/2005
Participants in the University of Michigan-led dioxin exposure study found explanations but no conclusions during a community advisory panel meeting Thursday night.
During the meeting at Freeland Elementary School, study leader David Garabrant presented a slide show that explained the confusing results of blood tests contained in letters sent to 265 study participants last month.
Garabrant stressed the importance of not drawing conclusions before all the results are finalized, which will not happen until late 2006.
“If we do that, we may have to change our answers in a year when we have a complete data set,” he said.
The U-M study will not link health problems with dioxin. The study has two goals, Garabrant said. The first is to determine whether dioxin levels in those living on the Tittabawassee flood plain are higher than people who live in other areas of Michigan. Second, if the levels are found to be higher, why?
Almost everyone has a measurable level of dioxin in their bodies, U-M scientist Alfred Franzblau said.
“That’s just a fact of life of being alive in the 21st century in the United States,” he said.
During public comment, Curt Dalton, 49, of Thomas Township questioned U-M scientists’ decision not to take volunteers. Dalton, who has multiple sclerosis, said the scientists should seek people who have had the most exposure to dioxin. He said he and his friends frequently exposed themselves to water in the Tittabawassee River during the late 1960s.
“We marinated ourselves. We waited on the beaches for our friends to get done water skiing so we could be next,” he said. “I sucked in water for years.
“Wouldn’t I be the perfect person to take my blood sample and take my tissue sample and see if I’m loaded with dioxin? Then you will have something to go on,” he said.
Garabrant responded by stressing that samples have to be taken randomly for the results to be scientifically accurate.
“Whatever bias they bring into the study actually takes the validity away from the random study,” he said.
James Brasseur, a family physician who lives on North River Road in Thomas Township, said during public comment that he received results of the blood test. “The only problem with that is I didn’t have my blood drawn,” he said.
U-M scientist Alfred Franzblau reassured the man that the team would look into the problem while the audience burst into whispers, which were punctuated with a few shouts of “junk science.”
“Unless I was whisked up into a flying saucer and had all that stuff done,” Brasseur said.
During an earlier press briefing, Garabrant explained that four staff members took great care while sorting results and preparing them for distribution. Each letter was at least triple checked, he said.
“We think it was right. We hand checked them over and over again,” he said, crossing fingers on both his hands.
Gary Schmidt of Freeland said he received test results in the mail, but could not fully understand what the numbers mean. He said the results put his blood dioxin level in the 75 to 90 percent range, but he does not want to draw any conclusions about possible health effects at this point.
“I think we have to get more studies before we can come to any conclusions. It’s all too early in the game,” Schmidt said.
Esther Schmidt, his wife, said one of their children has health problems that could be linked to dioxin, but right now the couple is not considering a lawsuit.
Schmidt said he also worries about the effect dioxin could have on the value of his Midland Road home. Recently, neighbors tried to sell their house with discouraging results.
“They couldn’t sell it and they ended up foreclosing. The offers were less than the value of the home,” he said.
The U-M study is funded by The Dow Chemical Co. and will cost $15 million. Garabrant said the money pays for more than 60 researchers, including a mobile phlebotomy service, teams collecting house dust samples, teams collecting soil samples, statisticians, laboratory teams and people in charge of quality control.
Garabrant said letters should be sent in April to people who had house dust collected and in June to those who had soil samples taken. Teams are 40 percent finished collecting samples in Midland and Saginaw counties, and are in the field now collecting the remaining data. Researchers will begin taking samples, a total of 175 sets, in Jackson and Calhoun counties in May and probably will finish in September, Garabrant said.
In all, teams will collect dust, soil and blood from 700 people in Midland and Saginaw counties. About 900 people will have blood taken, but are ineligible to participate in dust and soil collection because they do not own their homes. Garabrant said non-homeowners do not qualify to give soil and dust samples because the homeowner would have to be informed of the collection, which would break the confidentiality agreement researchers have with study participants.
Not chosen for the study?
Study leader David Garabrant advises strongly against people having their blood tested for dioxin at independent labs because the tests are costly and difficult to interpret. The panel did, however, distribute flyers from the Michigan Department of Community Health that listed labs that test for dioxin. Tests cost around $1,000 to $1,500, Garabrant said.
Alta Analytical Perspectives
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Contact: Yves Tondeur, Ph.D.
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2445 S. Alston Ave.
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Phone: (919) 281-4031
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Keika Ventures, LLC
PO Box 4704
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Phone: (866) 333-1092
Contact: Lorri L. White
Understanding the results
This will explain the results found in letters sent to study participants. The terms in the following article are from the letter and might be unclear to those who did not receive results:
The U-M study tests for 29 dioxin-like compounds found in the blood. Previous studies by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tested for 21 components.
Within the letter, table one indicates the blood serum concentration of each compound. The concentration is multiplied by the TEF, or toxic equivalency factor, to produce the contribution to TEQ, or toxic equivalency. The toxicity factor varies widely because different components have different levels of toxicity in the body, study leader David Garabrant said.
A study by the CDC provided a graph that assigned percentile rankings to blood dioxin levels. The CDC study only reported on 21 components, so the U-M results were adjusted so the graph could be used to indicate percentile rankings from the U-M findings.
So, if study participants compare the overall “contribution to TEQ (based on 21 congeners)” number found on the bottom right of table one to the numbers on table two, they can find the percentile in which they fall.
©Midland Daily News 2005