By Michael Hawthorne
May 2, 2008
SAGINAW, Mich. – The battle over dioxin contamination in this economically stressed region had been raging for years when a top Bush administration official turned up the pressure on Dow Chemical to clean it up.
On Thursday, following months of internal bickering over Mary Gade’s interactions with Dow, the administration forced her to quit as head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Midwest office, based in Chicago.
Gade told the Tribune she resigned after two aides to national EPA administrator Stephen Johnson took away her powers as regional administrator and told her to quit or be fired by June 1.
The call came as the Tribune was preparing to publish a story about the dioxin issue and Gade’s crusade.
Dioxin, measured in trillionths of a gram because it is so toxic, was a manufacturing byproduct of the herbicide Agent Orange and other chlorinated chemicals. Company documents show Dow knew by the mid-1960s that it could make people sick or even kill them. Citing years of independent studies, the EPA says dioxin causes cancer and disrupts the immune and reproductive systems, even at very low levels.
Concerns about dioxin contamination were behind two of the most infamous environmental disasters in U.S. history: the evacuations of the Love Canal neighborhood in upstate New York and the entire town of Times Beach, MO.