Dow amid Michigan flooding: Water mixed with our containment ponds, but no chemicals released

Dow amid Michigan flooding: Water mixed with our containment ponds, but no chemicals released

he Dow Chemical headquarters is shown December 10th, 2015 in Midland, Michigan.

he Dow Chemical headquarters is shown December 10th, 2015 in Midland, Michigan. (Bill Pugliano/Getty Images/TNS)

DETROIT - Floodwaters from the ongoing deluge in Midland County have mixed with containment ponds at the vast Dow chemical plant in Midland, although the situation does not pose harm to people or the environment, the company said Wednesday.

Dow announced on its Facebook and Twitter pages that flood waters began "commingling with on-site containment ponds" at the Midland plant at about 10 a.m. The company then partnered with the U.S. Coast Guard to activate emergency flood preparedness plans.

Later in the afternoon, company officials said the flood waters were mixing "with an on-site pond used for storm water and brine system / groundwater remediation," adding, "The material from the pond commingling with the flood waters does not create any threat to residents or environmental damage. There has been no reported product releases."

The situation continued to unfold Wednesday afternoon, and authorities said flood waters were not expected to peak until about 9 p.m.

Still, Dow's announcement raised concerns among residents and environmentalists about potential contamination of the already hard-hit area, which is coping with the evacuation of thousands of residents at the same time as the coronavirus pandemic.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said at a news conference that she is in contact with Dow officials and the company closed the chemical plant on Tuesday.

"I know they have extensive flood plans that they started executing," the governor said. "At this juncture, the plan is working, and they've been able to save any real damage from happening."

Dow officials did not provide details of the preparedness plans.

"Only essential staff are onsite to monitor and manage the situation with no reported employee injuries," the announcement said.

Dow Inc. is among the largest chemical companies in the world with more than 100 plants in over 30 countries, and is headquartered in Midland. The company dates to the 1890s and had over 36,500 total employees at the start of the year.

The number of Midland employees was not immediately available. A year ago, Dow had about 5,300 employees in Michigan across six sites, the Detroit News reported.

Dow has manufactured over 1,000 organic and inorganic chemicals at its Midland plant over the years, including major production of herbicides and pesticides.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency concluded in the 1980s that waste runoff from the plant was a significant source of the highly toxic chemical dioxin into the Tittabawassee River. Exacerbating the situation, record floods in 1986 caused Dow's wastewater system to overflow into the Tittabawassee upstream from the floodplain.

Dioxin exposure can potentially cause cancer and other adverse health effects, such as birth defects, learning disabilities and miscarriages.

"If this flooding does what it's anticipated to do, the legacy from Dow's dioxin will become much more widespread and much more prominent in people's everyday lives," said Lisa Wozniak, executive director of the nonprofit Michigan League of Conservation Voters based in Ann Arbor.

Last November, Dow agreed to fund environmental restoration projects worth an estimated $77 million to compensate for decades of pollution by the plant, the Associated Press reported.

Catastrophic flooding is a culmination of bad decisions and a lack of preparation, "knowing we are dealing with more and more severe storm systems linked to our changing climate," Wozniak said.

The Dow facilities are near an EPA Superfund site on the Tittabawassee and Saginaw Rivers, flowing into Saginaw Bay and related to Dow's legacy contamination, Wozniak said. Nationwide, other Superfund sites are similarly situated in areas at risk for flooding.

"This is an enormous, enormous wake-up call as to the need to address the problem," she said.

Dow emerged last year from its short-lived 2017 merger with Delaware-based DuPont. Following a drop in share price, the conglomerate did a three-way split in April 2019 that spun off Dow as a specialty plastics, chemicals and industrial coatings company.

Dow reported a net loss of about $1.3 billion last year on annual sales of $43 billion.

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