Testing has taken place at Dow Inc.’s Superfund site in Midland following a historic flood a few weeks ago. But officials say results of those tests aren’t yet complete.
The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy, or EGLE, collected samples of soil sediments last week and will collect more samples this week to test for changes in the levels of dioxins and furans, toxic waste believed to cause cancer and other ailments. Dow also is collecting samples and has sent them to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which oversees Superfund sites.
Midland County’s historic flood, which eclipsed a massive 1986 flood by 2 feet, caused concern that the Superfund site was disturbed and that the work done to contain the toxic waste was lost. Testing for changes in levels of dioxins are expected back as early as next week from Dow while EGLE is expediting tests on samples taken last week to have results in two weeks.
“It’s very important that [testing] be speedy and complete, and that split sampling occurs, and that we get the results as soon as possible,” said Terry Miller, chairperson of the Lone Tree Council, a local environmental group. “It sounds like they are doing what they should be doing.”
EGLE for the last decade has annually taken soil sediments along the Tittabawassee and Saginaw rivers for testing and specifically to track the dioxins left behind for decades by Dow.
“We will be looking at that data compared to previous data we have collected to see if concentrations have increased, decreased or stayed the same,” said Al Taylor, manager of the hazardous waste section in the materials waste management division of EGLE. “We don’t know what to expect at this point because this was obviously a very extreme event and could have caused additional dioxins and furans to be released from banks that were previously stable along the river.”
Still, experts say, clean sediment introduced into the system because of the flood and dam breaches could have help dilute the waste.
“It’s important to know that we have a pretty robust system for monitoring and clean up of the system after these yearly flooding events,” Taylor said. “Dow is required to clean up publicly accessible areas that get contaminated.”
The company has done post-flood cleanup in several downriver parks along the Tittabawassee River. Dow has completed post-flood sampling in areas similar to where EGLE collected samplings last week.
“The typical post flood sampling of areas in the floodplain will continue to be completed as areas continue to dry up and as it is safe to do so,” Kyle Bandlow, Dow spokesman said in a statement this week.
Dow’s findings of all samplings and inspections are reported to the EPA. The first set of samples of newly-deposited sediment in the floodplain went to Dow’s lab this week, according to the agency, which expects results as early as next week. Dow is still expected to send in additional samples.
Additionally, the company finalized the first phase of inspections and reported that “the stablized riverbanks appear to be in good shape and minor repair/maintenance may be needed in certain places,” according to the EPA.
Miller was concerned about the work done to stabilize banks was lost in the flood. For years, new soil and vegetation was placed on top of toxic soil, so it wasn’t exposed to the environment.
EGLE wants to make sure there aren’t levels of dioxins and furans that will make the agency change its risk management strategy. The current testing “will help us determine what additional sampling beyond what we are already doing needs to be done,” Taylor said, noting that “it’s fair to say” that there will need to be some additional work on the potential for recontamination of already restored sites.
Taylor worked on cleaning up the Dow site for 27 years. EGLE has partnered to help improve systems on site at Dow, restore the Tittabawassee River system and soil in the city of Midland.
In this year’s flood, Dow had water from one Brine pond mix with flood waters, but no other systems were disturbed in the flooding, unlike what happened in 1986.
“In 1986, the Dow waste water treatment plant was under water,” he said. “The river was on top of it and running through it. That didn’t happen this year and the flood was 2 feet higher than it was in ’86.”
The little impact at Dow’s site Taylor says is “a direct result of environment improvements that occurred in the interim to provide more resilience to the site. This is going to be an ongoing process to continue to improve because there will be another flood and we need to make sure all of these facilities are as resilient as possible to that outcome.”
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