Web Date: May 7, 2008
New Turn In Dioxin Tale
The decades-old saga of Dow Chemical's dioxin pollution in two Michigan rivers has taken a new twist: Mary A. Gade, a top EPA official, says she was forced to resign because of her efforts to get Dow to clean up the contamination.
Last week, Gade told the Chicago Tribune and other publications that she quit her job after two aides to EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson took away her powers as regional administrator. Gade told the Tribune, "There is no question this is about Dow."
By C&EN's posting deadline, Gade had not responded to calls for comment.
Since September 2006, Gade had headed EPA's Region 5 office in Chicago, which oversees six states—Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin.
Under Gade's watch, EPA in 2007 ordered Dow to clean up dioxin hot spots in the Tittabawassee and Saginaw Rivers downstream of the company's Midland, Mich., facilities. The agency and Dow then negotiated for further study and clean up of dioxin-tainted sediments in and along the rivers. But EPA abruptly broke off the talks in January, citing unresolved issues over protection of human health and the environment (C&EN, Jan. 14, page 36).
Gade was "a public official who was doing her job, laid down the law for this company, and got fired for it," says Michelle Hurd Riddick, a member of the Lone Tree Council. This community-based environmental group has campaigned for some 30 years to get Dow to clean up the dioxin pollution in the rivers.
"We never asked for or in any way implied that she should be relieved as EPA Region 5 administrator," Dow spokesman John Musser says of Gade.
After EPA suspended the talks with Dow earlier this year, the company sent a letter to Gade asking her to reconsider the decision, Musser says, but she did not respond. Dow then asked EPA's headquarters in Washington, D.C., to restart the negotiations, he tells C&EN. But there has been "no real change" to EPA's position since, he adds.
An EPA headquarters spokesman says Gade was placed on administrative leave on May 1. He says he is unable to elaborate further because the situation is a personnel matter.
Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.), chairman of the House Energy & Commerce Committee, is "concerned" about Gade's resignation, and he has directed his staff to look into the matter, a spokeswoman for Dingell tells C&EN.
This new turn in the Dow dioxin story is reminiscent of a tussle a quarter of a century ago between EPA's headquarters in Washington, and the agency's Chicago office. In 1983, Valdas V. Adamkus, then head of the Region 5 office, testified before Congress that EPA headquarters forced his office to cut portions of an agency report on the dioxin contamination???edits suggested by Dow. Adamkus is now president of Lithuania.
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