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DEQ employees urge Snyder to veto revisions to toxic cleanup law

michigan state capitol building
Brian Charles Watson
wikimedia commons / (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Eighty employees of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality wrote a letter asking Governor Snyder to veto a bill changing how Michigan handles hazardous substances. The group says they're concerned citizens who happen to be employees of the DEQ.

In the letter, they write that the bill caters to special interests and is based on outdated science. It requires Michigan to use the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Integrated Risk Information System to determine toxicity of environmental contaminants, rather than the best and most current science.

Robert Delaney is one of the DEQ employees who signed the bill, and a co-author of an early report warning of widespread PFAS chemical contamination. He says, "The business community has legitimate concerns and needs and those need to be addressed by our elected officials. We need to go for better science, not get stuck in the past."

The group says that the DEQ and citizens have been denied a voice as the bill was pushed through the Senate and House in its lame duck session.

From the letter:

The amendments represent the issues the regulated community stakeholders (representing manufacturing, utility, and chemical industries) has advocated in the stakeholder processes held by the MDEQ for the past several years and do not represent recommendations of other stakeholders or agreements reached during the stakeholder process. Over the past several years, many issues were addressed by the department in the spirit of compromise, collaboration and promise of long-term funding support. When they were unable to convince other stakeholders and the department that their recommendations were based on sound rationale, the best available science and in the best interest of Michigan's citizens, this special interest group took their issues to the legislature. There is nothing in the proposed legislation that represents "consensus" of all or most stakeholders.

The group of DEQ employees who signed the letter say that they are advocating for all of Michigan's citizens who rely on the MDEQ to ensure they are safe from contact with soil, water and air that has been contaminated from chemical releases to the environment.

One example provided by the group of DEQ employees is ethylbenzene. IRIS's entry for ethylbenzene dates to 1988, and does not identify oral or inhalation cancer toxicity data from a 1999 study published by the National Toxicology Program. Other examples of chemicals with incorrect, outdated information contained in IRIS are hexavalent chromium, cadmium, and 1,2,4-trichlorobenzene. The group says that if the bill is signed into law, contamination by these and other chemicals inaccurately documented by IRIS could be neglected. That could put people at risk for exposure to those substances in the environment without any warning.

They say the bill would also shift the financial burden for cleanup from the companies responsible for contamination to current and future citizens of Michigan. 

"The governor has indicated that he wanted staff input when we felt there was a problem with protecting the people of Michigan so we have taken up that challenge and we've gone ahead and on our own time provided our comments to the governor," says Delaney.

The bill has been passed in the Michigan House and Senate.

The DEQ did not respond to a request for an interview.

Catherine Shaffer joined Michigan Radio in 2014. She works in the newsroom and specializes in stories related to the life sciences, health, and technology. Catherine earned a bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry from Michigan State University and a Master’s from University of Michigan. Prior to Michigan Radio, Catherine has worked as a freelance writer, mainly in focusing on biotechnology and the pharmaceutical industry, since 2001. She is also an award-winning fiction writer. When not at work, Catherine enjoys being in the outdoors and practicing yoga.