Washington, DC — 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 (PEER).
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 in limbo.”
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.”