The Environmental Protection Agency has a plan for cleaning up soil contaminated by dioxins along the Tittabawasee River floodplain. The floodplain extends along 21 miles of the river below the Dow Chemical plant in Midland.
The EPA says the dioxins, which can cause cancer and other serious health effects, came from waste disposal, emissions and incineration from the plant.
The EPA has been directing Dow to do temporary cleanups around people’s homes whenever the river floods.
Michelle Hurd Riddick is a member of an environmental group in Saginaw called the Lone Tree Council.
“The issue is, when it floods, is the water comes up, it takes the contaminated sediments out of the river; and it deposits them in their backyards, under their swings, under their trampolines, in their gardens, in their chicken coops, on their farm fields,” she says.
Hurd Riddick says they’ve been doing those temporary cleanups until they can get to this proposed cleanup of the Tittabawasee River floodplain.
The EPA did not provide an interview for this story. But the EPA’s plan says the agency will not clean up the entire floodplain. Instead, federal and state agencies will evaluate each property and work with the homeowner if cleanup is needed.
Dow Chemical will clean up properties under the EPA’s supervision.
Riddick says her group is concerned that not enough properties will get cleaned up.
“Our problem is, even though they’re telling us what they’re going to do, there’s a lot of things we’re not sure about the direction yet and I don’t think EPA’s articulating it well enough.”
Criticism of past actions
The EPA expects to start the floodplain cleanup in 2015. The work will take several years.
It’s taken several decades to get to this point. Officials have known about this dioxin contamination since at least the early 1980s.
In a series reporter Shawn Allee produced for the Environment Report in 2009, we reported that former EPA Region 5 Administrator Mary Gade said Dow delayed any movement on cleaning up the dioxin.
“I think this corporation is hugely adept at playing the system and understanding how to build in delays and use the bureaucracy to their advantage and to use the political system to their advantage,” Gade said.
Dow Chemical spokesman Nathan Kerns refutes that statement.
“You know, that was before my time in this role, and I don’t see it that way, you know. In terms of the specifics about the plan, you’d have to reach out to the EPA. You know, at this point in time, we’re collaboratively working with the agencies and community to make progress towards resolution on the floodplain and river cleanup.”
At the moment, state agencies recommend that people not consume meat, milk and eggs from livestock raised in the Tittabawasee River floodplain. They don’t expect that recommendation to change even after the cleanup.
You can weigh in on the EPA’s proposal until October 14th.