The Saginaw News January 04, 2008

EPA quits dioxin talks with Dow

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has cut off cleanup talks with Dow Chemical Co. over decades-old dioxin and furan contamination in the Tittabawassee River system.

Neither the EPA nor Dow would release details about the impasse because of a confidentiality agreement that covers the closed-door negotiations. The talks revolved around a settlement to conduct a study and interim cleanup measures in the Saginaw and Tittabawassee rivers, wetlands and Saginaw Bay.

"We're not walking away from cleaning up the river system," said EPA spokeswoman Anne Rowan in Chicago. "We walked away from negotiations that we thought were not fruitful."

The move apparently caught the Midland-based chemical giant off-guard.

"Fundamentally, we're very surprised and very disappointed that the (EPA) ... decided to terminate the negotiations so abruptly," said Dow spokesman John C. Musser.

The company was prepared to offer "immense" human and financial resources to start a cleanup in compliance with EPA guidelines, Musser said. The EPA had set a 60-day timeline in October to submit a proposal. Dow submitted a plan Dec.10, and the EPA extended talks 30 days. Musser said Dow planned to submit a revised proposal on the day the environmental agency cut off discussions.

"They were asking us to go beyond what we thought was reasonable, and we could not with our earlier offers resolve that dispute," Musser said.

As part of a license renewal in 2003 for its 1,900-acre Midland operations, Dow agreed to address historic off-site releases that originated from the facility, Musser said.

"The big picture is nothing changes in terms of our commitment to work collaboratively" with EPA and the state Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), he said.

EPA will look at all of its options, Rowan said.

"It's premature for me to go into what our options are but it's safe to say we have a wide array of them, and they are all on the table," she said.

The federal agency has ordered Dow, for example, to clean up a concentrated pocket of dioxin in the Saginaw River. The chemical giant finished sucking up contaminated muck near Wickes Park this month. An EPA scientist has said the find measured 1.6 million parts per trillion, or 20 times higher than ever recorded in EPA archives. Musser has dismissed the sample as an isolated spot.

The DEQ, meanwhile, will continue its talks with Dow, Robert McCann, an agency spokesman, said Friday.

"There have been some sticking points, but I don't think we've reached an absolute dead end in a road we're trying to go down," he said.

McCann said the state has worked with Dow the past few years to outline the extent of contamination. For example, he said, sampling would continue in the Tittabawassee and Saginaw rivers.

"Our talks have been making sure that that work is ultimately done correctly," he said.

Terry R. Miller, chairman of the Tri-Counties environmental activist group Lone Tree Council, said he wasn't surprised the EPA broke off negotiations.

"We would like to see this get resolved, but we're seeing essentially what the DEQ has experienced with this company over the last five years," he said. "It really comes as no surprise to us that there's an impasse because we know the experience, again, the state has had with this company. It's really unfortunate."

State Rep. Kenneth B. Horn, a Frankenmuth Republican, blamed the EPA for not accepting Dow's offer.

"Cutting off negotiations is never a wise way to solve a problem," he said. "These people need to get serious and make something happen here in the Saginaw Valley area."

Veronica Horn, executive vice president of the Saginaw Chamber of Commerce and Horn's wife, said negotiators may need a cooling off period to overcome roadblocks.

"We all want to see a healthy river and a healthy economy so it's got to be a win-win for both sides," she said. "We'll certainly be on the side of the EPA to come back to the table."

Dow acknowledges that, for decades, its 1,900-acre plant in Midland polluted the watershed with dioxins and furans -- chemical byproducts that may cause cancer and damage reproductive and immune systems.


Jan. 4 2008 PR Newswire

EPA Terminates Negotiations With Dow Chemical on River Cleanups

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 5 today stopped its negotiations with Dow Chemical aimed at a settlement to conduct a study and interim cleanup actions for dioxin contamination in the Tittabawassee River system.

"EPA does not believe that the deal Dow is offering goes far enough," said Ralph Dollhopf, Associate Director for the Superfund Division of EPA's Regional Office in Chicago. "Key issues that are paramount for protecting human health and the environment remain unresolved. EPA simply will not accept any deal that is not comprehensive."

Last October, EPA called for 60 days of negotiations under provisions of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, or Superfund. Superfund specifies the process in which a remedial investigation and feasibility study must be conducted, as well as the design and execution of a cleanup plan. Last month, EPA extended its Dec.10, 2007, deadline to resolve remaining issues and reach a final agreement.

"I am extremely disappointed with this outcome," said Regional Administrator Mary A. Gade. "EPA approached negotiations with high hopes and realistic expectations. Our team put in many long hours of good faith efforts that came to an unfortunate end today. EPA is now reviewing its options for ensuring that dioxin contamination in the river system and the Midland area can be fully addressed."

The targeted area begins upstream of Dow's Midland, Mich., facility and extends downstream to the Saginaw River, its floodplains and Saginaw Bay in Lake Huron.

Under Superfund, an investigation and study are necessary to evaluate the nature and extent of hazardous substances, pollutants or contaminants from a site and assess the risks they present to human health and the environment. It would also require that enough data be developed to evaluate a range of cleanup options.

Dow's Midland facility is a 1,900-acre chemical manufacturing plant. Dioxins and furans are byproducts from the manufacture of chlorine-based products. Past waste disposal practices, fugitive emissions and incineration at Dow have resulted in on- and off-site dioxin and furan contamination.

December 7, 2007

Dioxin report details deception
EPA found state failed to stand up to chemical giant

With the state's complicity, Dow Chemical Co. has delayed cleanup and misled the public about the dangers of dioxin it dumped decades ago into rivers downstream of its Midland plant, Environmental Protection Agency officials charged in a confidential August internal report.

The memo, obtained by the Free Press, also said Dow impeded state efforts to force a cleanup, concealed data and studies, tried to keep documents confidential that should have been made public and insisted on negotiating cleanup details with Gov. Jennifer Granholm's office, rather than staff of the state Department of Environmental Quality.

EPA officials said they could not discuss the memo because it is confidential.

"It's absolutely off-base," said Steve Chester, director of the DEQ, who said the state has pushed Dow hard, especially in the past four years.

But residents and environmental activists have criticized the lack of progress and secretiveness of the talks between Dow and Granholm's administration and during her predecessor Gov. John Engler's administration before he left office in 2002.

A Dow spokesman took issue with the entire memo.

"It reflects a misunderstanding by EPA of progress that was being made at the time those criticisms were levied," said John Musser.

The situation has left people living along the Tittabawassee and Saginaw rivers frustrated. Their yards and homes are contaminated with dioxin that continues to wash onto their land during flooding.

"I'm tired of this," said Saginaw environmental activist Michelle Hurd Riddick, who has pushed regulators since 2001. "It's been a long time."

Last month, the highest level of dioxin ever reported to the EPA was found in the Saginaw River near a park in Saginaw. The company and regulators agree the dioxin source is the Dow plant.

That so-called hot spot is being cleaned up now as an emergency, as are three others along the Tittabawassee. But the cleanup of 50 miles of rivers and floodplains out to Saginaw Bay, first discussed in the early 1980s, has not begun.

Dioxin is a potent by-product of manufacturing processes and incineration. Unlike many chemicals that cause concern for regulators when measured in parts per million or billion, dioxin is a concern at parts per trillion.

It can cause cancer and -- more important, some researchers say -- disrupt immune and reproductive systems. Some research suggests its effects are more lethal on animals than on humans.

Separately from the EPA memo, a high-ranking Dow employee, whose job was to oversee validation of test results of soil samples tested for dioxin along the river, filed a lawsuit in Saginaw County last month claiming tests by Dow contractors were so flawed that the laboratory doing the validation rejected them and then quit, saying it didn't want to continue validation work for Dow.

Priscilla Johnson Denney, a Dow environmental engineer, said she warned superiors of the problem and was demoted.

Dow hires contractors to sample soil and test for contaminants, and it uses an independent lab to double-check results. Regulators use the results to decide whether or not cleanup is needed.

A revealing memo

The EPA memo accidentally was released within recent weeks to the Lone Tree Council, an environmental group, under a Freedom of Information Act request.

It comes as the EPA, Dow and DEQ are talking privately about whether the EPA will take over the cleanup efforts from the state. It's the third time in five years that Dow and various regulators have held confidential negotiations over what will be cleaned up when.

The memo said that Dow, unlike most companies, has insisted on direct negotiations with the governor and with Chester of the DEQ.

For the Midland-based multinational company, much is at stake. An eventual cleanup is expected to cost tens of millions of dollars and perhaps much more. Dow employees 43,000 worldwide, including 6,000 at four Michigan plants.

The EPA memo also said:

Dow had done unapproved studies and collected data without telling regulators. The DEQ fined the firm $70,000 in January 2006 over illegal sampling.

Political figures, including legislators, have been involved on Dow's behalf, trying to soften standards in the company's favor.

Dow tried to make dioxin seem less toxic. The EPA issued a press release last month rebuking Dow for statements downplaying the extremely high sample found in the Saginaw River.

Dow used a dispute process to make documents confidential that should not be. The memo itself is one of those documents.

Examples cited in the memo are old history, Dow spokesman Musser said. He cited recent milestones in cleaning up the rivers, including the hot spot cleanups and the cleaning of 300 homeowners' properties where high dioxin levels were found.

Granholm spokeswoman Liz Boyd said any inference that Granholm's involvement was improper or contributed to delays "is ridiculous."

"Were we involved? You bet," said Boyd. "We are not going to apologize for being hands-on and working diligently to resolve the cleanup issues in that area."

Boyd said the governor wants the issue resolved and has made Lt. Gov. John Cherry her point man. She would not discuss whether Granholm met personally with Dow about the cleanup and said that Granholm meets all the time with major firms.

Chester, DEQ director, said the Dow dioxin issue is one of the state's two most serious pollution issues (the other is the Kalamazoo River, heavily contaminated with PCBs), and he needs to be directly involved.

"There's nothing wrong with that," he said.

Chester said far more has been done on cleaning up dioxin in the past four years, under pressure from the state, than in the previous 20.

Getting to the truth

In her suit, whistleblower Denney said the independent laboratory double-checking the dioxin results told her in November 2006 that the data from Dow's contractor was badly flawed.

Denney told her bosses. A week later, they ordered her to stop doing any work relating to the data validation.

The lab rejected the data in a letter Dec. 5, 2006, saying it couldn't validate it.

On Dec. 8, the lab sent Dow a letter terminating its contract, citing a breakdown in procedures. Denney's suit said Dow submitted the bad data to the DEQ in February.

"She's been shut out," said Victor Mastromarco Jr., Denney's attorney.

The suit claims that Dow silenced Denney by removing her from data validation and "made sure she wouldn't be an obstacle to the submission of unvalidated data to the DEQ."

Jennifer Heronema, spokeswoman for Dow, said Denney is wrong and was not demoted.

Dow hired an independent consultant this year, after it turned the results in to the DEQ, to review Denney's claims.

The consultant identified no issues that would affect the quality or reliability of the data, Heronema said. Peter Simon, president of ATS Inc., the contractor, said Thursday his lab is certified, and quality assurance for the project met or exceeded state and federal standards.

Chester said Wednesday the DEQ asked Dow for its raw data and more information on how it was validated. He said Denney's allegations are serious.

"Right now, we have no reason to believe the data is wrong," he said. "We want to double check and to see that the data we've based decisions on was right."