Dow and dirty

May 7, 2008 at 12:00 am

Ever since this rag ran an investigative piece six years ago on the problem of dioxin contamination in and around Dow Chemical's hometown of Midland ("Shadow of Dow," March 27, 2002), News Hits has kept a casual eye on events there.

Last week all sorts of hell started breaking loose when the Chicago Tribune's Michael Hawthorne broke the news that Mary Gade, head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Midwestern regional office in Chicago, was told she had a choice: Either jump ship or get pushed over the edge.

Gade, a former corporate attorney appointed to her EPA job by President George Bush in September 2006, decided to jump, but she didn't take the fall quietly. She told Hawthorne she had no doubt why push came to shove: "There's no question this is about Dow. I stand behind what I did and what my staff did. I'm proud of what we did."

And what she and her staff did was try to make a corporate bully used to having its own way clean up the toxic mess it's made. Dioxon is one of the most toxic substances known, and there's no doubt Dow is responsible for the contamination in and around Midland. But the company has long fought cleanup efforts.

As Lana Pollack, president of the Michigan Environmental Council, said in a printed statement: "It appears that once again Dow Chemical, with the help of an administration that has little interest in environmental protection, has succeeded in muzzling a woman of unquestioned credentials and integrity who was doing her job enforcing our environmental laws."

Not everyone shed tears over Gade's departure. Dave Camp, the Republican congressman who represents Midland, was quoted as saying, "In 20 years of public life I have never encountered a more unprofessional, vindictive, and insulting government official."

News Hits suggests you consider the source of that quote. As environmentalist Michelle Hurd Riddick noted in a post on the Enviro-Mich listserve: "Camp's penchant for running interference for Dow is nothing new." His wife, by the way, is a former Dow attorney.

Others in Congress had a more reality-based response. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, a Rhode Island Democrat, compared Gade's firing to the Bush administration's removal of nine federal prosecutors, apparently for political reasons.

"It seems," said Whitehouse, "that the Bush administration might have once again removed a highly qualified and well-regarded official whose only misstep was to disagree with the political bosses.

News Hits is edited by Curt Guyette. Contact him at 313-202-8004 or [email protected]