From: Hugh McDiarmid Jr., Detroit Free Press
Published January 20, 2005 12:00 AM

Dow Chemical, Michigan Approve Plan on Dioxin

Jan. 20—Dow Chemical Co. will take immediate steps to protect residents from dioxin in three Midland neighborhoods and part of the Tittabawassee River valley, the company and the state announced Wednesday.

And by year's end, Dow is to present a blueprint for an investigation to determine the scope of a final cleanup.

The agreement is the culmination of seven months of closed-door negotiations between the company and the state Department of Environmental Quality, brokered by Lt. Gov. John Cherry.

Dioxin, a dangerous chemical released for decades from Dow's Midland facilities, has contaminated soil and river sediment at levels far exceeding state standards.

DEQ Director Steve Chester said Wednesday's pact "reduces exposures where the greatest potential risk is, and establishes a framework for future remedial action."

Environmentalists, many of whom chafed at being shut out of the recent negotiations, were tepid in their assessment of the agreement, which was announced but not publicly released Wednesday.

James Clift, policy director with the Michigan Environmental Council, said the announcement doesn't answer a key question: "When is Dow going to do a cleanup, and what's it going to look like?"

Nor does it require river dredging or other permanent removal of even the most contaminated soil, he said.

"The key becomes, what are we going to see in a year?" Clift said. "It's good to see Dow step up and finally take some responsibility for their dioxin, but it's a small step considering it's something they've known about for two decades."

The agreement actually accelerates the process in many areas, said Sue Carrington, director of Dow's Michigan Dioxin Initiative. For example, it adds 5.5 miles of the Saginaw River to the 22-mile stretch of the Tittabawassee included in the first phase of investigation. It also acknowledges that Saginaw Bay is at risk from Dow dioxin, and initiates a formal dialogue on the bay and the lower Saginaw River.

Parts of the agreement that involve action during 2005 include:

—Assistance to residents of several hundred properties most at-risk from contamination, including three small neighborhoods in Midland and homes along the river that were inundated with water and sediment in a 2004 flood. The aid, to be complete by year's end, might include cleaning of dust and sediment from inside homes; landscaping to cover exposed soil, and removal of potentially contaminated dirt from paved areas.

—Similar assistance, beginning in 2006, to other at-risk properties along the Tittabawassee and parts of the Saginaw River not included in the initial phase.

—Dow commitment to fund cleanup of sediments deposited by future floods that contaminate homes, public parks and paved areas.

Chester also said that he expects to bring the issue back to frequent public forums in 2005.

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