Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Birnbaum II... guest blogger Bill Egerer

Total attending “body count” about 75
Estimate of composition:
  • 19 - Regulators (MDEQ, MDCH, EPA) - REQUIRED
  • 5 - Regulated (Dow) - REQUIRED
  • 6 - Media and Recorders - REQUIRED
  • 15 - Legacy Scientists, Technical, Medical Friends - USUAL
  • 5 - Resident Group Members - REGULAR
  • 3 - Community Leaders - REGULAR
  • 10 Enviros - REGULAR
  • 10 - General Public - NEW

As forecast, this meeting did NOT attract the public. Almost 90% attending were REQUIRED or part of a REGULAR group active on this issue.

For MDEQ, this should register as a flop for impact or influence towards “educating” Midland, which was their stated goal. Let’s see, on May 2004, we had 1500-1700 attend and tonight, Dir. Chester’s event draws about 5% of that total.Were people “peeking in the window” and trying to get in? Were people deliberately boycotting it? Were people afraid to attend? Was the meeting not adequately publicized? NO, NO, NO, NO. People didn't show up because it wasn't important to them; it had little value or meaning to them because they don't think Midland has a health problem with dioxin. It’s that simple.

Our problem with dioxin ain't health related; its REGULATORY without using sound science basis for public policy.


Started and ended on time. It was one hour of PowerPoint slides by Birnbaum and one hour of Q&A. Professionally facilitated Q&A with written questions read by the facilitator and about 10 minutes of open floor for a few comments. Extremely well handled, fair, balanced, all parties got an opportunity to voice a question or comment.Minor problem with low volume on mic, but overall, it was an excellent format and well carried out. The army of regulator staff was available prior to, and following, the meeting for individual discussions. MCTV taped the entire event. Handouts available. This high quality format is unprecedented, for a MDEQ meeting, but should be continued for any future “technical info meetings”.


Dr. Birnbaum has “cleaned up” her traditional presentation with both some new professionally prepared slides and eliminated many of the blatant emotional/nonscientific claims. She’s grown more savvy in her answers and rhetoric. The average lay person would leave scratching their head if there is really a serious risk or not. SOUNDS like it ……. COULD BE!! Just don't have all the proofs in yet.

As expected, EPA continues to turn up the volume about REGULATION as what has caused the current low levels of dioxin today. Without REGULATION, we'd be swimming in a sea, dust bowl and smoggy air of dioxin mush. Good thing, the REGULATORS caused the dramatic shift in dioxin levels from 1970 to today. Every single dioxin exposure incident is morphed into a success story of regulation. EPA is even an expert on Ukraine poisoning and knows that “thank goodness” he didn't die, but we'll “never know” if his future health ailments are caused by this poisoning.

Forget the facts that EPA and regulators have made colossal misjudgments and screwed up the public policy on just about every single dioxin related accident, poisoning and exposure .Dr. Birnbaum was poised, more articulate and more careful in her selection of words, than her previous presentations. One would expect that as she spoke in a hall of her elders.


Qualified scientist or technical Midland people submitted about 75% of the roughly 15 questions. Most questions challenged some aspect of Birnbaum’s science or risk interpretations and judgments. Some more complex i.e. the use of TEQ as a non-analytical measurement. But ALL questions were of serious and tangible technical nature. Very few, if any, were any emotion, political or smarmy in nature.

Birnbaum held her ground, didn't back off on many of her stated opinions and adopted a rather silver tongue at being able to take a barrel of “possible” and “iffy” information and put it into an answer of SERIOUS PRECAUTIONARY CERTAINTY.

People should NOT think the Q&A was anything even remotely close to scientific peer review, debate or discussion. Dr. Birnbaum enjoyed the bully pulpit, that's a fact. And considering she is speaking at virtually the world's headquarters of dioxin knowledge and expertise, she SHOULD be concerned that she "get it correct". There was a mountain of science horsepower in that small audience last night and Birnbaum would be buried and overwhelmed had the format been a GENUINE science peer review meeting versus the bully pulpit she enjoyed.

One audience member tried to "defend" Dr. Birnbaum by stating the questioning was "attacking" in nature. This gentleman apparently has not seen any peer reviewed science processes when stark, harsh data, facts, citations are all expected to be part of making a scientific document move from "opinion" into reliable statements of fact. This Birnbaum presentation was a cakewalk compared to any official scientific peer review steps.

Dr. Shaheen's analogy sums up the value of her message when he says " ... She went through a litany of maladies that may be an imagined complication of dioxin exposure. It was no different than reading a drug insert or reading the Physicians Desk Reference on any drug sold through a pharmacy. If you read any drug insert, you would not take any pill.

"Likewise, if we listen and apply every Birnbaum opinion, we'd have every river and property dredged and dug up for NO realistic benefit.I decided this evening; Dr Birnbaum has credentials for a second career in politics or as a trial attorney. One has to admire her ability to handle the questions from experts who were making science advancements at a time when Dr. Birnbaum and me were still children. It was apparent; her previous “wipe em up in an emotional drum beat” was NOT on her radar. Rather, she put forth a pretty slick message of POTENTIAL “dread”.


There is a scary part of tonight’s event. Not so much for Midland, but for other communities that have the misfortune of being heavy handed by a regulatory agency. We had a POWERHOUSE of scientific expertise engage directly with this event. Some even “world class” talent. Some DEPTH of experience that few, if any, other locations could muster.YET, this one toxicologist credentialed regulator, with the backing of a fiefdom operating State agency, stood up to and answered all the questions posed, without relenting from her stated position. I don't think she “won” in delivering compelling answers, but she did not “give up” any of her stakes in the ground either.

CONSIDER the community that doesn't have the science wells of Dow Chemical or Dow Corning; they would be bamboozled and led to the chopping block with little recourse. Probably receive regulatory enforcement before they even know what hit them.

I've seen this happen, 1st hand, with endangered species act using over reaching enforcement in rural areas and the stakeholders don't even know it happened. THIS is the scary part about our government regulatory system!!


Midland 1,700 to Chester 75 How come it doesn't it “feel” like we’re winning ;-)

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