Dow Suit Changed Environmental Landscape In Central Michigan
Detroit, MI – This past summer, after 16 years, one major modification, and millions of dollars of required pollution reduction and environmental clean-up expenditures, the Clean Water Act consent decree negotiated between NELC attorneys and Dow Chemical Company was officially terminated, with the consent of all parties, by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan.
The 1997 consent decree grew out of a case filed by NELC in 1995 on behalf of local environmental activists, charging Dow with discharging illegal amounts of chemical pollutants into the Tittabawassee River, Saginaw River, and Lake Huron from its flagship Midland, Michigan, manufacturing complex.
Under the terms of the decree, Dow Chemical substantially upgraded both the technology and the operation of its then antiquated waste- water treatment plant, leading to a marked reduction in pollutant loadings and a significant improvement in permit compliance.
In addition, Dow was required to remove and lawfully dispose of some 40,000 tons of dioxin-contaminated wastes, which had been one major flood away from being washed into the Tittabawassee River and contaminating downstream communities.
Dioxins—a class of chemicals formed as unwanted byproducts of certain industrial processes—have been linked to birth defects, immune system deficiencies, cancer, and reproductive and developmental problems.
When it became clear that technical difficulties would prevent Dow from meeting the dioxin removal schedule specified in the consent decree, NELC brought local public health advocates and a national engineer- ing expert into negotiations with the company.
As a result of these negotiations, the Dow consent decree was amended in 2001 to expedite the dioxin removal process while at the same time greatly increasing the community protections associated with the handling and disposal of the wastes.
In addition, as part of the revised 2001 settlement Dow and local public health groups co-produced a dioxin training video for Dow employees.
Finally, Dow was required to pay $1 million in penalties, the bulk of which has been used to fund a wide variety of projects to improve the quality of local waterways (see related interview on 2014 Winter – Interview: Terry Miller Of Michigan’s Lone Tree Council).