Dow Chemical meeting makes reader nervous

Posted: Wednesday, June 22, 2005

The purpose of this letter is to put local elected officials, regulators and Dow Chemical on notice that at least one citizen vigorously objects to having Dow locate here ("Peninsula officials meet with Dow Chemical," April 15). Certainly, there are many who share this objection to turning the Kenai Peninsula into "Chemical Alley-Far North."

I moved to Alaska in 1992 to breathe clean air. I grew up in the southeastern United States and have lived in paper mill towns and towns with chemical plants, spending 10 years in a town that had both — Tuscaloosa, Ala.

Now I live with a chronic illness that certainly was not helped by years of living with putrid, lung-burning air. I experience lingering health effects directly related to my two years of working as a veterinary assistant using a Dow pesticide called Dursban, or chlorpyrifos. That exposure was three decades ago.

The community should look hard at Dow's legacy, the products it makes and its willingness to be accountable. Here are some Dow products: mustard gas, napalm, Agent Orange, 2,4-D, and Dursban. Most people will recognize the first three and their destructive effects on living things, while 2,4-D is an herbicide component of Agent Orange that contains dioxin, a persistent chemical and known carcinogen.

Dursban is an organophosphate pesticide that kills pests by attacking the nervous system. It also kills cats because they lack the enzymes necessary to detoxify it, and EPA has banned it for indoor use because of its toxicity to the human brain, especially the brains of fetuses and children. This extreme toxicity is no accident, organophosphate chemicals were originally developed as chemical weapons.

Dow Chemical now owns the Union Carbide facility in Bhopal, India, that leaked methyl isocyanate gas, instantly killing 3,800 people (and untold numbers of nonhuman animals), with 8,000 dead within three days. Half a million people were exposed to the leaked chemical, and 20,000 have died to date of exposure-related illnesses. Tens of thousands continue to have health problems.

Dow stands mute before their requests for help. Even more unconscionable is that Dow claims that the data it holds on the health effects of methyl isocyanate is a "trade secret," thus preventing effective medical treatment for injured people. The site has never been cleaned up.

More recently, the state of Michigan has discovered dioxin contamination in the Tittabawassee River and the adjacent flood plain, as well as the Saginaw River and Saginaw Bay miles downstream of Dow's plant in Midland. As a result of this contamination, the state has issued fish advisories and declared certain species of fish unsafe to eat in any quantity. Local residents along the river are in a legal struggle with Dow to obtain funds for health monitoring.

Jacqueline Colson, Soldotna

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