For Immediate Release
Luke Eshleman (202) 265-7337
Dow Dioxin Deal Flying Under EPA Radar
Contamination Case in Closed-Door Negotiations for "Non-Regulatory" Resolution
WASHINGTON - Dow Chemical is in the final stages of "confidential" negotiations
with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to secure an "alternative" non-enforcement
approach for addressing massive dioxin contamination stemming from the chemical
maker's Midland, Michigan headquarters. If consummated as slated by February
15, the pact would constitute a precedent-setting abdication of public health
protection to a polluter, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility
At issue is 52 miles of toxic chemical pollution downriver from the Dow headquarters
into Huron Lake's Saginaw Bay. The deadly dioxin plume in one of the
Great Lake's largest watersheds has caused fish and game consumption
health advisories and has led to dioxin absorption in local residents. The
highest levels of dioxin ever found in a U.S .river system were found 30 miles
downriver from the company plant.
After years of delay, removal of contaminated soils and sediments finally
began in 2007, following orders issued by then-EPA Regional Administrator Mary
Gade, citing imminent threat to human health and the environment. In March
2008, Ms. Gade and the State of Michigan agreed to take concerted enforcement
action to force a final clean-up. To counter that move, Dow reached out to
top level Bush appointees in EPA Headquarters for their intercession. In May
2008, Ms. Gade was forced to resign.
The non-regulatory approach Dow championed had been previously rejected by
Ms. Gade, who was also the former director of the Illinois Environmental Protection
Agency from 1991 to 1999, calling the Dow alternative "insufficient to
protect public health". Dow is negotiating for greater control of the
stringency of clean-up required, the degree of public input or review, as well
as the extent of government oversight.
"Under the Bush administration, pollution enforcement was often undertaken
only with the consent of the violator - and this case is a prime example," stated
PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. "Negotiations with Dow have gone on
for well more than a decade while comprehensive testing and clean-up remains
If an agreement is signed between Dow and EPA, the agency may be contractually
precluded from pursuing stronger remedial measures regardless of future circumstances.
Similarly, the State of Michigan will be effectively hamstrung from taking
a tougher regulatory approach on its own. It is not clear, however, whether
new Obama appointees have weighed in or are even aware of the confidential
Dow negotiations which officially began on December 15, 2008.
"How Dow is handled may signal whether we can expect stronger anti-pollution
enforcement under the Obama administration than we saw under Bush," Ruch
added. "The economy of Michigan is not well served by having to continue
absorb toxins in its rivers, wildlife and people while an effective clean-up
would put create green jobs for local residents."
Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) is a national alliance of local state and federal resource professionals. PEER's environmental work is solely directed by the needs of its members. As a consequence, we have the distinct honor of serving resource professionals who daily cast profiles in courage in cubicles across the country.