dow Chemical has been asked to clean-up its act in the us. It's been charged with
spreading contaminants. This comes soon after a row in India over shifting of toxic waste from the Union Carbide factory (owned by Dow) in Bhopal
to a facility in Gujarat (see 'Eyewash', Down To Earth, July 15, 2007). On June 27, the us Environmental
Protection Agency (epa) notified Dow that it must immediately start cleaning up three dioxin-contaminated hot spots
located along almost 10 km downstream of its plant in Midland, Michigan, by the Tittabawassee river.
The Dow plant is spread over 769 hectares.Dow has operated its manufacturing facility on the shores of the river since 1897, and over the years, it has manufactured a number of chemicals, including mustard gas, Agent Orange, napalm, and pesticides like 2,4,5-trichlorophenol, 2,4-d and Dursban (chlorpyrifos), which create dioxin as an unintended byproduct during production and/or disposal.
Another study by deq, between December 2000 and June 2001, was mired in controversy. The study found that the dioxin concentration ranged between 33 parts per trillion (ppt) and 7,261 ppt in the 34 samples collected. The results of the study were kept in wraps and came to public notice only when a deq official tipped off a local environmental group about the results. The documents revealed that the dioxin concentration was 25 times higher than the residential direct contact criteria of 90 ppt. They also brought to light the nexus between deq and Dow to downplay the dioxin threat in the region.
The nexus also entailed a "secret deal" between the two to create a dioxin zone with permissible limit of 831 ppt in the region. The deal, however, fell through in the wake of public and political pressure. As an explanation, Robert McMann, deq spokesperson, said that there were divergent views on the dioxin contamination and on the role of Dow in the community and therefore, they (deq) wanted to work with Dow to come up with a plan without being pulled in multiple directions by different stakeholders.
Tracey Easthope, director of environmental health with Ecology Center, Michigan, says the differences are because of the fact that Midland is a Dow town and a lot of people work in the Dow plant. But that does not give either Dow or deq the liberty to not share information on dioxins, she says.
McMann said that although not much clean-up was done in 2004-05, Dow had put up boardwalk along the river to warn people about the dioxin contamination. But Kathy Miller, a resident, says that they felt they were being held hostage in their own homes because they had to constantly wear masks and not allow their children to come in contact with soil. "Just informing that there are contaminants isn't enough," she said.
usepa on July 7, 2007, reacted to Dow's revised plan saying, "Dow's description of historical plant operations and waste management practices has significant deficiencies. Dow has provided no specific information about the many hazardous constituents released by it into the watershed." epa has also raised other issues such as Dow failing to report on environmental monitoring data to deq, and seeking confidentiality on public documents.
While Dow has agreed to comply with epa orders, both Dow and deq are baffled at epa's "sudden order" and "strict action". Community groups, however, have welcomed epa's move and are hopeful about the clean-up.
We are a voice to you; you have been a support to us. Together we build journalism that is independent, credible and fearless. You can further help us by making a donation. This will mean a lot for our ability to bring you news, perspectives and analysis from the ground so that we can make change together.
Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.