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Midland flooding prompts concerns about contamination

Steve Carmody
Michigan Radio

The flooding in Midland is raising concerns about re-suspending old pollution that’s caused problems along the Tittabawassee and Saginaw rivers for decades.

A more than 50 mile stretch of the rivers was contaminated by dioxin from past activity at the Dow chemical complex. A decades-long fight between Dow and regulators was finally settled with a plan to cap the river bottom and clean up properties along the river.

The group Environment Michigan is concerned the rushing flood waters caused by heavy rains and the failure of two dams could undo the remediation.

“I fully suspect that’s going to re-suspend some of those contaminated sediments from the river channel and put those back into the floodplains just like it’s historically done,” said Nathan Murphy, the state director of the group.

The World Health Organization indicates dioxins are highly toxic and can cause reproductive and developmental problems, damage the immune system, interfere with hormones and also cause cancer.

Murphy says his group is also concerned about waste that might be stored in buildings.

A Dow facility and a Dow-Corning facility both near the river are listed by the U.S. EPA as “significant non-compliers” of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act which regulates how hazardous and non-hazardous waste should be handled.

Dow statement on Facebook.

In a Facebook post on Wednesday afternoon, Dow confirmed there were flood waters commingling with an on-site containment pond used for storm water and brine system/groundwater remediation. 

Environment Michigan is also worried about chemicals that Dow does not have to report to state regulators.

“There's probably a really substantial volume of potentially really scary chemicals sitting on that Dow site with water encroaching closer and closer,” Murphy said.

He based that on what New Jersey found in its plants. It’s the only state that requires companies to report all chemicals to regulators.

In the Wednesday post on Facebook, Dow stated, “There has been no reported product releases.”

Dow did not respond to a request for an interview.

In an email, the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy indicated it's also concerned about gas stations or other liquid and solid waste storage facilities that are underwater. It stated it will have a better idea of any contamination when the water recedes.

See this 5-part series on the history of dioxin contamination of the Tittabawasee from 2009 by the Environment Report.

Michigan Radio listeners, readers, and reporters are rising to the challenge every day. If you can, please support essential journalism during this crisis.

Lester Graham reports for The Environment Report. He has reported on public policy, politics, and issues regarding race and gender inequity. He was previously with The Environment Report at Michigan Public from 1998-2010.
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