EDITORIAL, DETROIT FREE PRESS, AUGUST 18, 2006
Areas downriver from the Dow Chemical Co. plant in Midland need to be cleaned up once and for all.
A thorough research project the University of Michigan conducted shows that although residents in the affected area have only slightly higher-than-normal dioxin levels in their bloodstream, they are clearly beyond what people elsewhere have.
Virtually everyone on the planet has testable levels of dioxins, a family of toxic chemicals. At least one type is known to cause cancer — although at a level greater than any found among the tested residents — and others are suspected of being carcinogens. Still others are associated with adult-onset diabetes and endocrine and immune problems.
Because these toxic chemicals break down very slowly over time, dioxin levels correlate most strongly with age. But in the study, people who ate fish, especially from the contaminated area, had higher levels, too. In fact, the food chain, except for fruits and vegetables, is probably a major source of intake for most people. But living with contaminated soil adds another layer of exposure. Combined with the fact that area residents are more likely to fish, hunt, hike and swim close to home, they may come in contact with the toxins at almost every turn.
Dow spokesman John Musser said it was good news that the overall blood-level increase related to soil contamination was so small. But researchers did find that blood levels of certain dioxins rose in tandem with the levels in residents’ soil at home. That supports the need to clean up places with the highest contamination.
The evidence on locally caught fish suggests repairing the Tittabawassee River ought to have a higher priority than it does. In the meantime, health agencies need to redouble their efforts to ensure anglers understand local fish advisories. Helpfully, the Department of Community Health will soon distribute 10,000 copies of a new booklet that lists lakes and streams with relatively uncontaminated fish in the Saginaw Bay basin.
For the Midland area residents, that’s only a start.