12 May 2008 wsws.org

US environmental regulatory official forced out after dispute with Dow Chemical
By Naomi Spencer

A regional US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator in a long-running fight with Dow Chemical over pollution announced her resignation May 1, after high-ranking federal officials stripped her of her enforcement powers and told her to quit or be fired by June 1. The ouster is the latest example of the Bush administration
fs political interference into science and regulation at the EPA on behalf of big business.

The administrator, Mary Gade, headed the EPA
fs Region 5 office in Chicago, which oversees federal enforcement throughout Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. Since she was appointed by Bush to the Midwest office in 2006, Gade had pressed for clean-up efforts and pursued penalties against Dow for dioxin contamination surrounding its Midland, Michigan plants.

For decades, Dow has dumped dioxin
\a highly toxic byproduct of herbicides and chlorinated chemicals\into local rivers, contaminating fish and wildlife and saturating the water and soil within 50 miles of its plants. Dioxin is known to cause cancer, mutations, and serious skin diseases. The EPA considers the chemical dangerous to public health and the environment even at very low levels because it bioaccumulates, or builds up in the environment and in the body much faster than it breaks down.

Last July, Gade invoked emergency powers to order Dow to immediately clean up three so-called
ghotspotsh of dioxin near its factories. At one test site near a park in Saginaw, Michigan in November, the EPA found dioxin levels of a staggering 1.6 million parts per trillion. The federal EPA limit for dioxin is 1,000 parts per trillion; Michiganfs state Department of Environmental Quality limit is only 90 parts per trillion. The chemical is measured in trillionths both because of its toxicity and its bioaccumulative property.

In November 2006, a survey by the University of Michigan identified three areas within a six-mile stretch of the Saginaw-area Tittabawassee River with extremely high dioxin concentrations in the soil. The levels measured from 69,000 to 87,000 parts per trillion. The company insisted that the depth of dioxin in the soil
\between 6 inches to a foot down\indicated that the contamination occurred at least a century ago and had nothing to do with Dowfs own dumping. Michiganfs average dioxin level statewide is only 7 parts per trillion.

Dow has continually insisted that its dioxin pollution is harmless to people and wildlife. Company spokesperson John Musser told the Chicago Tribune May 2,
gThere is all this mystique about dioxin. Just because itfs there doesnft mean there is an imminent health threat.h To the Washington Post on May 3, Musser claimed company-commissioned research showed that dioxin in soil gis not a contributor in any meaningful way to levels of contaminants in peoplefs bodies. Both on human health and environmental side, therefs not an imminent public health threat.h

Dow sought to cut a deal on the clean up with the EPA late last year that would have extended the deadline until at least 2010. According to the May 2 Tribune report, Gade broke off negotiations in January on the grounds that Dow was grefusing to take action necessary to protect public health and wildlife.h In turn, gDow responded by appealing to officials in Washington,h according to gheavily redacted lettersh obtained by the Tribune through a Freedom of Information Act request.

The Tribune reported that two aides to federal EPA administrator Stephen Johnson gave Gade the ultimatum of quit or be fired. Gade told the paper on Thursday,
gTherefs no question this is about Dow. I stand behind what I did and what my staff did. Ifm proud of what we did.h

EPA head Johnson has on multiple occasions interfered with the basic mandates of the agency to protect public health since his appointment in 2005. In December, Johnson quashed a California initiative that would have imposed limits on greenhouse gas emissions from automobile exhaust. He has declined to declare such emissions a public health concern despite broad consensus within the EPA on the dangers posed by global warming.

EPA scientists have complained about similar political meddling over the past five years. A survey of EPA staff scientists by the Union of Concerned Scientists, released April 23, found that the agency was
gunder siege from political pressures.h According to the UCS findings, Bush appointees ghave edited scientific documents, manipulated scientific assessments, and generally sought to undermine the science behind dozens of EPA regulations.h

Of 1,600 respondents, 889 scientists (60 percent) reported that they had personally experienced at least one incident of political interference during the past five years. A fifth of respondents said their work had been subjected to changes that altered the meaning of the scientific findings, and a fifth of scientists reported experiencing gselective or incomplete use of data to justify a specific regulatory outcome.h

Nearly 200 EPA scientists said they had personally experienced gsituations in which scientists have actively objected to, resigned from, or removed themselves from a project because of pressure to change scientific findings.h More than 40 percent of the respondents said they had seen cases in which gcommercial interests have inappropriately induced the reversal or withdrawal of EPA scientific conclusions or decisions through political intervention.h

The UCS noted that nearly 100 scientists specifically identified the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) as the primary source of external interference at the EPA.

In 2004, the agency
fs scientific risk assessment process for toxic chemicals such as dioxin, called the Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS), was put under the authority of the OMB. The EPA conducted only two risk assessments for all of fiscal years 2006 and 2007. In addition, according to an internal government audit, five IRIS assessments were aborted without explanation.




Washington Post May 3, 2008;

Administration Reportedly Forces Out EPA Official

A senior regional Environmental Protection Agency official who had feuded with Dow Chemical over a toxic cleanup site in Michigan resigned Thursday under pressure from the Bush administration, according to published reports.

Mary A. Gade, who headed the EPA's Midwest regional office in Chicago, had fought for months with Dow over plans to address dioxin-contaminated soil and sediment in Saginaw Bay and Lake Huron stemming from the chemical giant's Midland, Mich., plant. Dioxin, which at low levels of exposure has been found to cause cancer as well as immune and reproductive system problems, is a byproduct in the production of Agent Orange and other chemical products.

Gade -- who was appointed to her post in 2006 by President Bush -- told the Chicago Tribune on Thursday that two aides to EPA administrator Stephen L. Johnson stripped her of her power as regional administrator and informed her she could either quit or be fired by June 1. "There's no question this is about Dow," she told the Tribune. "I stand behind what I did and what my staff did. I'm proud of what we did."

Efforts to reach Gade to independently confirm the Tribune account were unsuccessful.

Last summer, Gade invoked emergency powers to compel Dow Chemical to clean up three highly contaminated dioxin sites near its Midland plant. In November, she called for more dredging after tests found dioxin levels of 1.6 million parts per trillion in a Saginaw park, the highest concentration ever recorded in the country.

At that point, Dow entered into negotiations with Gade over a broader cleanup, but she suspended those talks in January. Dow responded by appealing to EPA officials in Washington, asking them to restart the negotiations, but this has not occurred, company officials said.

EPA spokesman Jonathan Shradar did not comment in detail on Gade's departure but wrote in an e-mail, "Mary Gade has been put on administrative leave and has announced that she will resign when that ends June 1."

In an interview, Dow spokesman John Musser said the company played no role in Gade's resignation.

"We would say we never asked for or implied in any way that Mrs. Gade should be relieved of her duties," Musser said. "We didn't know about it before it took place, and we certainly don't have any understanding of the EPA's reasoning behind their decision to place her on administrative leave."

Federal officials invited Dow to engage in cleanup talks that "would be a path forward to address the dioxin situation," Musser said, adding they extended talks for an additional 30 days in an effort to reach a resolution.

"Before we were able to provide them with the latest offer, they unexpectedly put a halt to the negotiations. They knew we were going to give them a new offer that very day, but they didn't wait for it to be sent before they put a halt on the proceedings," he said.

When asked whether Gade made that decision, Musser replied, "I would have to assume yes." He added that the company has commissioned research showing that soil containing dioxin "is not a contributor in any meaningful way to levels of contaminants in people's bodies. Both on human health and environmental side, there's not an imminent public health threat."

In a floor speech yesterday morning, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) decried Gade's departure and cited it as "just the latest in a growing pile of evidence of a troubling and destructive force at work within our government, one with serious consequences for our environment, our natural resources and our public health.

"We do not yet know all the details of Ms. Gade's firing or everything that may have gone on between EPA and Dow Chemical. But from all we have heard and seen, Mary Gade's story seems like deja vu all over again from an administration that values compliance with a political agenda over the best interests of the American people," Whitehouse added.

S. William Becker, executive director of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies, has known Gade for years, and wrote in an e-mail that her decision to step down testifies to her professional commitment.

"Mary Gade is a strong leader and a woman of principle, and her actions on this issue have reinforced this point," Becker wrote.

In the meantime, many Michigan residents are wondering when someone will remove the dioxin in their soil and waterways. Joy Cooper, who has lived in Saginaw for 40 years, said she "would like to see a solution" to the impasse.

"We've been tested and retested. They've been taking our blood samples; they've taken samples out of our home; they've taken samples out of our yard," Cooper said. Her husband, Lloyd, had colon cancer in 1992 and she suffers from arthritis, but Cooper said she is unsure whether those are linked to the dioxin that permeates their environment.

"We raised four children here," she said. "We fish; we boat; we're exposed to that river all the time. Sometimes in the back of my mind, I think, 'Gee, did this cause something?' "

May 28, 2008@@http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/chi-dioxin-29-both-may29,0,7252768.story

Dow Chemical ordered to clean up area in Michigan near its headquarters
@@High levels of dioxin found

Federal officials Wednesday ordered Dow Chemical to clean up high levels of dioxin recently discovered in homes and yards in a Saginaw, Mich., neighborhood downstream from the company's world headquarters.

Preliminary results from tests conducted in March by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found dioxin levels in household dust and outdoor soil that were well above the federal cleanup standard. The amount in a sample taken from one yard was 23 times higher than what the EPA considers reasonably safe.

The new order is a result of aggressive action taken against Dow by the EPA's former top official in the Midwest, Mary Gade, who told the Tribune last month that the Bush administration forced her out as head of the agency's Chicago-based office over heated disputes between the chemical company and environmental regulators.

It marks the first time that federal officials have forced a dioxin cleanup in a residential area near Dow's sprawling Midland, Mich., chemical plant. The EPA issued four similar orders last year, three for industrial areas and another along a public park.

Before Gade stepped in, cleanup had been minimal. The most extensive work, negotiated by the state, had involved scouring the interiors of 300 homes and spreading wood chips over contaminated soil outside.

Earlier this year, Gade surprised Dow officials and local residents when she ordered new tests in residential areas downstream from the company's plant. The results disclosed Wednesday showed high dioxin levels in and around a stretch of homes about 20 miles from the plant, near where the Tittabawassee and Saginaw Rivers meet.

One sample of household dust had dioxin levels of 3,000 parts per trillion, three times more than the federal cleanup standard. Levels in the yards were as high as 23,000 parts per trillion and averaged 2,000 parts per trillion.

"This highlights why it is so important for the agencies to keep holding Dow accountable for its actions," Gade said Wednesday.

For most of the last century, the company dumped dioxin-laden waste into rivers that stretch for 50 miles into Saginaw Bay and Lake Huron. Clean-up efforts have been delayed by legal wrangling by Dow, which for years insisted it wasn't responsible.

Company officials still contend dioxin-contaminated soil and sediment doesn't threaten people or wildlife. At the same time, they say the company is prepared to restore polluted areas, but they disagree with state and federal officials about how the project should be carried out.

"We've said all along that if there are things that need immediate attention we are prepared to deal with that," spokesman John Musser said.

Dioxin was a manufacturing byproduct of the herbicide Agent Orange and other chemicals manufactured by Dow. EPA officials say it causes cancer and disrupts the immune and reproductive systems, even at very low levels.

Federal and state officials met with Dow executives Wednesday to discuss how the cleanup will proceed.

"We want rapid action in that neighborhood to minimize potential exposure," said Ralph Dollhopf, associate director of the EPA's regional Superfund office.

2008/6/4 AFP

Boeing, Dow Chemical fined 926 million over nuclear pollution

A Denver, Colorado court has fined Dow Chemical Co. and Boeing Co. a combined 926 million dollars for property damages caused by plutonium contamination from a nuclear weapons plant.

The court set the fines in a judgement handed down late Monday after a jury found Dow and Rockwell International Corp, which Boeing bought parts of in 1996, responsible for damages claimed by thousands of property owners near the Rocky Flats (Colorado) Nuclear Weapons Plant in a trial that concluded in February 2006.

In the class action suit launched 18 years ago, some 12,000 plaintiffs accused Dow and Rockwell of allowing plutonium from the Rocky Flats plant to contaminate their property, especially residential areas downwind from it, endangering the residents' health and slashing their property values.

Kane's judgment arrived more than two years after a jury returned a verdict in the trial, which ended in Feburary 2006.
At the time, the federal jury decided the two contractors damaged land around the plant through negligence that exposed thousands of property owners to plutonium and increased their risk of health problems.

The court Tuesday fined Dow 653.3 million dollars and Boeing 508.1 million in compensatory damages, but then set a cap of 725.9 million dollars for both for compensating the plaintiffs, according to the ruling.

It also fined Dow 110.8 million dollars and Boeing 89.4 million in exemplary damages.@I

Boeing "is successor-in-interest to Rockwell International Corporation and has represented to the court that it is answerable for any judgement rendered against Rockwell International Corporation in this matter," Judge John Kane wrote in his judgement.

The lawyers for the property owners who sued the two companies cheered the judgement.

"Our clients are very pleased to have this judgement entered, this has been a long and very difficult process. They're very pleased to have their claims recognized and are looking forward to the conclusion of this very long and difficult process," Steven Kelly, attorney for plaintiffs, told AFP.

Dow said it would appeal the judgement and both Boeing and Dow said that ultimately the US Department of Energy was liable for the damages, having idenmified them when it contracted their work at the Colorado plant.

"As contractors at Rocky Flats, Dow and Rockwell are indemnified by the US Department of Energy," Dow spokesman Jarod Davis said in a statement.

"Consistent with our position in the past, we intend to appeal, and we are confident this judgment will be reversed."

"We are not going to be responsible parties here," Boeing spokesman Dan Beck told AFP.

"There will be no impact on earnings and balance sheet because of the indemnification."

Located about 25 kilometers (15 miles) northwest of Denver, the Rocky Flats plant was operated by Dow from 1953 to 1975, and then by defense contractor Rockwell until its closing in 1994; it supplied the plutonium triggers Nu for the US nuclear bomb arsenal.

Fires, equipment leaks and loose storage controls during that period were the sources of significant releases of plutonium and other radioactive substances.

In 1989 the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the US Environmental Protection Agency raided the plant over alleged environmental crimes, ultimately leading to its shutdown.

Violations documented by state and federal officials included the outdoor storing of barrels of waste oil and solvents contaminated with plutonium. State health officials have said some of those barrels leaked and contaminated the surrounding soil, which later blew downwind.

The federal government has since spent $7 billion to clean up the site and turn it into a wildlife refuge.