EPA, MDEQ Agree to Dioxin Assessment Order for Dow Chemical
Following an extended public comment period, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 5 and the state of Michigan have signed an administrative order on consent with Dow Chemical Co. outlining steps that will result in a comprehensive Superfund evaluation of dioxin contamination in the Tittabawassee River and Saginaw River and Bay and their floodplains.
The agreement requires Dow to identify cleanup options and to design the remedy that EPA ultimately selects, according to an EPA press release.
"The order is the result of an incredible effort by MDEQ and EPA staff who have worked tirelessly to develop the information necessary to get to this point," said Jim Sygo, interim director for the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ). "I am confident that the progress we have made will continue forward, and real cleanup action will come soon to this region."
The order signed by the agencies is unchanged from the draft presented to the community in October 2009. The agreement includes a detailed responsiveness summary by EPA and MDEQ that addresses, in categories, the issues raised during the public comment period. The issues include:
- proceeding with cleanup promptly,
- attention to the concerns of property owners along the river,
- potential economic impacts to the region and
- requests for more detail on how community input will be considered as the project proceeds.
The vast majority of the more than 60 individuals or groups who provided comments in writing or at a November public meeting were supportive. Because many of the comments related to implementation of work under the settlement, rather than to the agreement itself, EPA and MDEQ aim to address those concerns with a robust schedule of community involvement activities.
For 2010, the agencies anticipate an active role for the community advisory group (CAG), including monthly meetings, to discuss progress on the technical work. The CAG was established in late 2009 with 23 board members. Technical assistance will also be provided through a "technical assistance plan," or TAP. This TAP will start off with $50,000, with more funding available as required. The CAG, and other organizations, will be eligible to apply for the TAP. An open, transparent process will be used to select a recipient that best represents the community.
On Sept. 25, 2009, EPA and MDEQ announced that they had completed negotiations and reached a proposed settlement with Dow. Though Dow had already signed the proposed settlement, the agencies chose to hold off on approving the agreement until public comments had been considered.
"The agreement spells out tasks and a schedule that Dow must follow," said Richard Karl, Superfund director for EPA Region 5, which includes Michigan. "While the Superfund work proceeds, Dow must also continue to comply with its Michigan-issued RCRA license."
Highlights of the approved order include:
- Technical activities Dow is required to complete, including addressing high-use properties along the rivers, addressing erosion and movement of highly contaminated soil and sediment, and identifying cleanup options in an upstream-to-downstream fashion.
- How the Superfund process will be used to meet Dow's investigation and clean-up obligations under its MDEQ RCRA active facility waste regulations license.
- Legal terms addressing EPA and MDEQ's site costs, fines Dow may be required to pay in the event of noncompliance with the agreement and the process for resolving disagreements among EPA, MDEQ and Dow.
- How the community will be able to obtain technical assistance.
With the agreement approved, immediate next steps include establishing a segmented approach to the Tittabawassee River and filling in data gaps for the first segment, and planning for how to address high-use properties along the rivers and the erosion of highly contaminated soil and sediment.
The administrative order on consent and the responsiveness summary, as well as a plain language fact sheet, will be available to review at Alice and Jack Wirt Library, 500 Center Ave., Bay City; Grace A. Dow Memorial Library, 1710 W. St. Andrews St., Midland; and Hoyt Main Library, 5050 Janes Ave., Saginaw. They will also be posted at http://www.epa.gov/region5/sites/dowchemical/. Residents with questions about the agreement may contact EPA community involvement coordinator Patti Krause at 800-621-8431, Ext. 69506, or firstname.lastname@example.org.