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Somewhere down the Tittabawassee River

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Here's another reason why good, effective industry regulation is so important to the public interest. And why corporations like Dow and the politicians they fund will always condemn it and fight it.

Dow is based in Midland, Michigan. It is the second largest chemical company in the world, and the largest producer of plastics in the world. According to the Political Economy Research Institute, Dow is the 11th largest polluter in the country, putting over 14 million pounds of toxins into the air every year.

Dow has brought us exciting advances in kitchen technology such as Saran Wrap and Ziploc Bags. They are also a major producer of herbicides, and made a lot of Napalm and Agent Orange for the military back in the days of the Vietnam war.

One of the byproducts of making herbicides and products like Agent Orange (a herbicide and defoliant) is dioxin. In fact, Agent Orange itself is full of dioxin. These products were made at the Dow plant in Midland, Michigan. Because of poor regulation (or perhaps a complete lack thereof? This all started before the EPA came into being in the Nixon administration) of waste product disposal, the Tittabawassee River is now chock full of dioxin, discharged by the Dow facility in Midland. The Tittawabassee feeds into the Saginaw River, and the Saginaw feeds into Saginaw Bay and Lake Huron. You see where I'm going with that.

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It was around 2000 when the amount of dioxin in the Tittabawassee came to light. Tests have shown 8,700 parts per trillion in the river bed, which far exceeds the state limit of 90 parts per trillion. After Dow fought the clean up for years, first the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality came down on them, and more recently - in June of this year - the EPA came in with a smackdown of its own: Clean up all identified contamination sites by the end of the year. I'll have to admit, I was a bit shocked that the Bush-controlled EPA would get tough on any corporate polluter. But I'm glad to see it.

Of course, there is still argument about how dangerous dioxin is. Years ago, I read a book on dioxin that said there is no acceptable level of exposure to dioxin - it's super toxic, and won't ever break down naturally in your body. It just accumulate and accumulates. More recently the WHO has said it's not as bad as once thought. Tell that to those who have suffered from dioxin poisoning due to exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam, and the children born to them that suffer horrific deformities as a result. A Google image search for Agent Orange pulls up truly horrific of children damaged by it. It's worse than you could imagine - consider that fair warning before you click on the link.

So what's my point? Well, effective regulation of industry protects the public interest. Period. Anyone who argues against it is either misinformed or a shill for corporate interests. Multinational corporations don't care about the public interest, and never will. They exist to return a profit for their owners, plain and simple. There's not necessarily anything wrong with that, I guess, as long as the federal and state governments regulate industry, and the corporations act ethically and responsibly.

But that didn't happen here. That's why the Tittawabassee is contaminated, and why people of both Vietnam and Midland, Michigan filed (separate) class action suits against Dow for exposing them to dioxin (albeit in completely different ways). In this case, if the U.S. government had been acting in the public interest over the past century, there would be no contamination in Midland.

Of course, there would still probably be people suffering in Vietnam from exposure to Agent Orange. But that's a whole other story about why war is rarely, if ever, in the public interest, but certainly fattens the pockets of powerful corporate interests.

[Note: photo from Vietnam Agent Orange Campaign. According to their site, the picture is of "Prof. Tran Xuan Thu at the dioxin contamination advisory in Midland, June 21, 2007." Don't go playing in the dirt there!]

Comments

Ukrainian PM Victor Yushchenko is a poignant example of the fast acting toxicity of dioxin, in this case a highly concentrated dose.

lovely before and after shot still up at CNN:
http://www.cnn.com/2004/WORLD/europe/12/11/yushchenko.austria/index.html

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