An Associated Press article by Tim Martin showing up in several papers today discusses the Midland/Tittabawassee River dioxin contamination mess (the Detroit News link is: http://www.detnews.com/2004/metro/0406/20/b04m-188764.htm ).
The story takes the "on the one hand and on the other hand" approach of presenting each side’s arguments, but unfortunately doesn't provide additional independent scientific information explaining where the Michigan dioxin standards came from, how these are already based on the best science available, and, one thing missing throughout, that this issue is NOT only about cancer. I am not a scientist, and make no claim to be an expert, but I’ve learned that the dioxin issue is much more complicated and troubling than simply the issue of cancer causing effects.
Dr. Theo Colburn of the World Wildlife Fund brought these concerns to light in her work during the 1990’s in particular, including providing laypeople access to this issue through the book "Our Stolen Future". One of the biggest reasons for concern about dioxins is that they mimic hormones and during critical periods of development of fetuses or young children may actually cause irreversible damage (see http://worldwildlife.org/experts/colborn.cfm for a little more background on Colburn). Disruption of the endocrine and reproductive systems are pointed to in particular as changes that could effect both these children and all future generations. The exposure levels that cause such harm may be incredibly minute, which is where the parts per trillion comes in to play. The claims by some that those in the area have shown no ill consequences point to just how important it is to have a complete picture of the threats and the potential harm to people alive now and those who may be born in the future. The mantra “sound science” seems raised in particular by those who want to select the “proof” they will use to meet their own, prefab conclusions. These people, in particular Michigan Legislators who are using the DEQ budget as a lever to force the state to take actions absolutely out of step with the current, best science, have an agenda that fails their constituents and all Michigan citizens.
House Bill 5963, sponsored by Representatives John Moolenaar, Sandra Caul , Mike Nofs , John P Stakoe , Chris Ward , Judy Emmons , Brian Palmer , John R Pastor , Gary Newell , Lorence Wenke , Scott Hummel , Clark Bisbee , Edward J Gaffney , and Jim A Plakas and introduced in the Senate as SB 1276 by Senator Tony Stamas, would change the level at which the state clean up of dioxin starts (90 ppt) to a level set by a federal agency, ATSDR, (1000 ppt) that has no relationship whatsoever to the objectives of the state number (see previous items posted on this issue). What has NEVER been explained by this group of Legislators is WHY they want to let Dow and any other responsible party off the hook for responsibility to clean up dioxin contamination for those places contaminated with between 90 and 999 ppt.
In fact, this diminished responsibility for potentially responsible parties appears to be the only tangible result of this attempt to legislatively detoxify dioxin. The debate itself has assured that millions of people who never heard of the Tittabawassee River before now know there is dioxin pollution all along it. A negative effect on property values seems destined to happen if for no other reason than the “leave us alone” contingent making such a big stink about this.
Was this an unintended consequence of a poorly thought through strategy, or was this in fact the goal all along? Leave the victims with no clean up AND let the responsible parties walk away? One thing is clear – uninformed debate by politicos about dioxin has a relationship to stupidity – it either is caused by or is an inevitable result of such a debate.
Anne Woiwode, Director
Sierra Club Mackinac Chapter
109 East Grand River Avenue, Lansing, MI 48906
ph: 517-484-2372 fx: 517-484-3108 e: email@example.com