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Industrial Safety

Flooding in Midland, Michigan, threatens Dow facility

Two area dams have failed, and Midland County is under a state of emergency

by Alexander H. Tullo
May 20, 2020

 

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Credit: Associated Press
Flooding in Midland, Michigan

Two dams along the Tittabawasee River in Midland, Michigan, failed on Tuesday, May 19, leading to prodigious flooding that prompted Dow to shut its manufacturing facility there.

Heavy rains in the region caused the Tittabawasee River to crest above flood stage. On May 19, officials announced that the Edenville and Sanford dams failed, just hours after they had declared them structurally sound.

Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer declared a state of emergency for Midland County. Local residents are evacuating.

Dow’s manufacturing facility sits on the eastern bank of the Tittabawasee. The site makes products for the company’s materials and coatings segment. In addition, businesses that were once part of Dow have operations on the site.

For example, Corteva Agriscience makes agrochemicals there, DuPont has a methylcellulose plant, Trinseo runs latex and acrylonitrile-butadiene-styrene units, and SK Saran produces specialty plastics. In addition, Cabot operates a fumed silica plant at the location.

“All operating units on site have been safely shutdown,” Dow says in a statement issued on May 20, “except for facilities needed for safely managing chemical containment, and all railcars are secured.”

“At approximately 10:00 a.m. Eastern it was confirmed there were flood waters commingling with on-site containment ponds,” Dow’s statement continues. “We immediately partnered with the U.S. Coast Guard to activate emergency plans. Only essential staff are onsite to monitor and manage the situation with no reported employee injuries.”

According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, more than a century of chemical manufacturing has led to contamination on and off the Dow site, notably dioxins resulting from chlorine-based chemical production. Elevated dioxin levels have been found in sediment along the Tittabawasee, EPA says.

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