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E-M:/ Citizens Demand Right to Be Heard in Dow Sweetheart Deal

Title: Citizens Demand Right to Be Heard in Dow Sweetheart De
Press Release

Embargoed until 10:30 am, December 2, 2002

Citizens Demand Right to Be Heard In Proposed "Sweetheart Deal" for Dow

Coalition Petitions State Agency to Intervene In Permit Process,
Demands Additional Time for Input on Dioxin Contamination Issue

        Residents living in dioxin-contaminated areas were joined by leading environmental organizations in the state today in petitioning the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), demanding the right to intervene in a proposed decision that could relieve Dow Chemical Company of responsibility for comprehensive cleanup, and expose Michigan residents to future health risks.

   The DEQ's proposal comes in the form of a consent order with Dow reached in the waning days of the Engler Administration that would raise legally acceptable dioxin standards beyond those called for by scientists and public health experts.  The order is on a fast track to be completed before the new Administration takes office.  The DEQ proposal is being made in connection with contamination of the city of Midland, and a 22-mile area downriver from Dow Chemical along the Tittabawassee River.

Residents and environmentalists filed a petition Monday under the provisions of the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act seeking to intervene in the order, and for a delay in the decision until the DEQ weighed evidence opposing a change in the standard.   In the petition, the groups argued that the consent order's proposed interim dioxin standard was developed using unapproved methods resulting in a standard almost ten times higher than the current statewide standard, threatening Michigan's environment and the public health.  

      In a separate letter to the DEQ, the coalition asked for an extension of the public comment period on the license and corrective action plan because the notices and hearing violated state requirements.  The coalition requested the extension in order to give citizens a chance to present extensive technical documentation challenging the proposed agreement.

    "In the face of mounting scientific evidence confirming the grave risks posed to human health by dioxin, the State's DEQ has shunned the advice of its own experts and turned the cleanup process over to Dow and its consultants,"  said Michelle Hurd Riddick of Lone Tree Council, and a petitioner.

"Now only concerned citizens stand between DEQ's insider agreement and an increased risk of immune system problems, developmental delays, cancer, birth defects, neurological impairments, and other harm that can result from exposure to dioxin," said Diane Hebert, a Midland resident and petitioner.

       The proposed deal between Dow and the DEQ would eliminate the current standard for dioxin at the site, and create a new, less protective standard for cleanup of the extensive dioxin contamination in Midland.  This weaker standard could ultimately become the statewide standard. Under the agreement, soil levels of dioxin, one of the most toxic substances known to science, could be almost ten times higher than the current state cleanup standard without cleanup being required. Such an agreement could save Dow millions of dollars in cleanup costs while exposing the public and local citizens to unacceptable risks and setting a dangerous precedent. 

      Extensive DEQ, Environmental Protection Agency,  and Michigan Department of Community Health documentation unearthed by the citizen coalition shows that DEQ officials waived the typical decision-making procedures to allow environmental consultants, including one working for Dow, to write a new dioxin cleanup standard based on scientific and statistical analyses that have not yet been generally accepted.

        "We believe this illegal consent order is just the first step in Dow's plan to manipulate the process to get out of their obligation to clean up their mess, and protect public health," said John Taylor, Chair of Tittabawassee River Watch.

        The current DEQ residential cleanup standard for dioxin in soils is 90 parts per trillion.   If the state were to use the latest peer-reviewed scientific studies, according to one Department of Community Health document, the new standard could be as low as 12 to 53 ppt.

        Section 1705 of the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act authorizes agencies or courts to allow any person to intervene in administrative proceedings that may result in harm to the environment.

Groups filing the petition are: Lone Tree Council, Tittabawassee River Watch, Ecology Center, Michigan Environmental Council, Citizens for Alternatives to Chemical Contamination, Public Interest Research Group in Michigan (PIRGIM).  In addition, 15 residents of Midland or the contaminated downriver floodplain joined in the action.   Petitioners are represented by the Traverse City firm Olson and Bzdok.

For more information, see http://www.ecocenter.org.  To learn more about Tittabawassee River Watch, see http//:www.trwnews.org.


Michelle Hurd Riddick, Lone Tree Council - 989-799-3313
Terry Miller, Lone Tree Council  - 989-686-6386
Dave Dempsey, Michigan Environmental Council - 517-487-9539
Tracey Easthope, Ecology Center, 734-663-2400 x 109
John Taylor, Tittabawassee River Watch, 989-781-2950
Diane Hebert, Environmental Health Watch - 989 832-1694