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State to test soil along river near Midland's Dow Superfund site Thursday

Kalea Hall
The Detroit News

The state will test soil sediments along the Tittabawassee River on Thursday following Midland County's 500-year flood that some fear could have destroyed the work to remove toxic dioxins at a Superfund site there. 

The testing, by staff from the Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy, is conducted annually of soil sediments along the river, specifically to track the dioxins at the site, EGLE spokesman Nick Assendelft said in a statement to The Detroit News on Wednesday.

EGLE will work to expedite the testing with results expected within the next few weeks, Assendelft said. 

The state will be testing along the Tittabawassee River on Thursday following Midland County's 500-year flood that some fear could have stirred up or exposed dangerous dioxins at the Dow Superfund site.

The Superfund site was created more than a decade ago near the Dow Inc. Midland facility after the long-lasting contaminants were found there, left for decades by Dow's chemical plants. Dioxins can cause cancer, reproductive and developmental problems, damage to the immune system, and can interfere with hormones, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

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"This sampling is part of a roughly decade-long effort with our partners, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Dow, to sample in response to routine and non-routine flood events and track the movement, if any, of the chemicals," Assendelft said in a statement.

Sampling is typically done during this time of year, but this time EGLE is hoping to find out how an event as large as last week's flood affected the Superfund site. 

Environmental groups in the area grew concerned last week that the historic flood had stirred up the contaminated sediment at the bottom of the Tittabawassee River.

Terry Miller, chairperson of the Lone Tree Council, a local environmental group that pushed for years to have the site cleaned up, was also concerned that new soil placed over years to stabilize river banks was washed away, exposing toxic soil.

"I hope they discover that the efforts that Dow, the EPA and EGLE put forth over the last few years have succeeded," Miller said. 

He's hoping that new plantings "maintained themselves and the banks did not erode and the sediment within the river held... that would be great news, but I suspect it's only the beginning."

Dow could not immediately be reached for comment late Wednesday, but on Tuesday company spokesman Kyle Bandlow said the company has been "in close communication with EPA and state agencies" and the company is working with them on a plan of action.

Dow has said there will be an inspection of each remediation project along the Tittabawassee River as flood waters recede. In a 2017 flood, the work "held up remarkably well ... and we are confident that we will see a similar outcome this time," Bandlow said. 

The company has been working on clean-up and recovery efforts at its Dow Michigan Operations in Midland after its brine containment pond co-mingled with flood water there. The company on Saturday said that flood water was no longer encroaching on the pond.

The company has reported no releases of chemicals from its manufacturing facilities, and said no employees were injured.

Twitter: @bykaleahall