A recently released memo from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) outlines a number of ways in which Dow Chemical—based in Midland, Michigan—has worked to weaken environmental standards and delay clean up of pollution generated by the company. The memo, obtained via a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request by filed by the Lone Tree Council, is dated “August, 2007” and is titled “Dow’s History of Impeding MDEQ Efforts to Implement Corrective Action for Off-Site Contamination.”
As the title indicates, the memo outlines several ways in which Dow Chemical has acted to impeded the functioning of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ). The first paragraph states simply that:
“The Dow Chemical Company (Dow) has a documented history of impeding the efforts of impeding the efforts of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) to require the characterization and remediation of off-site contamination associated with Dow’s Midland, Michigan facility.”
The memo then goes on to outline a multi-faceted approach used by Dow Chemical to delay action on pollution from its Midland, Michigan facility. This approach includes efforts designed to create confusion over the health effects of Dioxin by issuing contradictory statements and releasing falsified results and cozying up to legislators and regulatory agencies.
According to the memo, Dow Chemical has engaged in “Illegal Concealment of Data and Studies,” by conducting “unapproved studies” and collecting off-site data without notifying the EPA or MDEQ. The memo says also that “Dow Puts Forth Public Information that Contradicts MDEQ or Current Science.” Some examples of this include a 2004 study claiming that game killed downstream of Dow’s facility is safe to eat despite Michigan’s position to the contrary, a 2004 newsletter saying that concerns over dioxin are not based on sound science and that the health effects have been overstated, and another 2004 study that workers exposed to dioxin do not face elevated threats of illness. Dow has also funded a study by the University of Michigan into the health effects of dioxin, which while the findings are generally consistent with the EPA and MDEQ positions on the threats posed by dioxin, has been publicly presented in a way that highlights how little effect that living on contaminated soil has on an individual’s blood dioxin levels.
Dow also seeks special treatment from the state of Michigan, often to limit public knowledge of what it is seeking and to lessen accountability. The memo states that:
“Dow frequently…requests that issues be resolved using day-long working sessions. The working session approach has had the effect of limiting the administrative record, and places significant resource requirements on the MDEQ. EPA knows of no other facility in the State of Michigan where this type of approach to corrective action has been allowed by MDEQ… Dow often requests MDEQ to make decisions on the spot at meetings.”
It also routinely seeks to have decisions made by “upper level” MDEQ staff such as the agencies Director or Deputy Director which complicates the process by requiring approval from agency heads and in some cases, the governor of Michigan. This is not done at most facilities, and Dow has used this to its advantage to delay action and negotiate out of the public spotlight.
In a similar vein, the company has sought to use the “alternative dispute resolution (ADR)” process to keep “non-confidential” information from the public, particularly with regard to data collected via the Dredged Material Disposal Facility. Through this process, Dow has gotten data stored at a third party location where it is not accessible via the Freedom of Information Act. Dow has also successfully worked with allies in the Midland city government to keep some information from the public and the MDEQ, keeping data stored at a law firm retained by Dow rather than releasing it to the public.
The document further elaborates on these political connections, asserting, “The repeated involvement of political figures and legislators in the corrective action process has resulted in significant delays.” Specifically, the memo cites the City of Midland’s willingness in 2004 to host a “community forum” that was “greatly controlled” and reflected the city government’s position that there is great uncertainty about the health effects of dioxin, as well as its ongoing efforts to delay actions and insert itself into the process. At the state level, the memo argues that legislation “complicates the regulatory landscape” and requires significant staff resources. At the federal level, Representative David Camp of Midland has also requested that the EPA keep him informed of the Michigan DEQ’s activities.
The memo’s release comes at a critical time, as the EPA recently announced that it has found the largest dioxin hotspot ever recorded in the Saginaw River. Additionally, the EPA has also alleged that Dow Chemical is violating provisions of the Clean Air and Hazardous Waste acts. Dow Chemical and the EPA are currently meeting privately to discuss the clean up of three other “hot spots” in the Tittabawassee River.
Dioxin is a toxin that affects the nervous and reproductive systems, causes numerous cancers, and can effect childhood and fetal development. It is commonly found in contaminated soils, river-bottoms, and fish.