(CN) – The Justice Department said Friday that Dow Chemical Company has agreed to pay $77 million to restore wildlife habitats damaged by toxic chemicals released from its facility in central Michigan.
Under the proposed agreement, which is still subject to public comment and approval, Dow will fund restoration projects in thousands of acres in three counties in and around the Tittabawassee River, Saginaw River and Saginaw Bay. The settlement does not resolve Dow’s liability for the clean-up at its Midland headquarters and manufacturing plant, or the costs for responding to contamination at the site, the DOJ said.
Officials declared that some game and fish were unsafe for human consumption after Dow’s facility released toxins into the environment, the government said. Advisories warned of soil contamination in several public parks, the DOJ, Michigan and the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe said in a complaint filed Friday.
“This settlement has been more than a decade in the making by a combined team of state, federal and tribal partners working together for the benefit of Michigan’s environment and precious natural resources,” Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel in a statement. “I look forward to seeing these projects implemented to the benefit of the communities and ecosystems impacted by Dow’s contamination.”
Dow spokeswoman Ashley Mendoza said in an emailed statement that a five-year plan is in place to restore 8,000 acres of land in the Great Lakes Bay region and that the company was working with trustees to put the plan into effect.
“We encourage people to learn more about the proposed restoration plan that is now available for public review and comment and make their views known,” Mendoza wrote.
Dow has run the 1,900-acre chemical research and manufacturing facility on East Main Street in Midland since it started doing business in 1890. Dioxins were the waste product of bleach, chlorine gas, caustic soda, synthetic rubber and Styrofoam, and they contaminated water, sediments and soil along the Tittabawassee River and drifted downstream to Saginaw River and Saginaw Bay of Lake Huron, the DOJ said. Incinerators at the facility also pumped toxins into the air.
Dioxins are “toxic at extremely low concentrations,” the government said in its complaint, and they can cause skin lesions and attack the liver, immune system, and reproductive systems.
U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider of the Eastern District of Michigan said the restoration projects in the Saginaw Bay Area would include nature preserves, hiking and biking trails, that funds would allow land and water to be opened up for fishing, hunting and canoeing. Other improvement projects would revive wetlands and make it easier for fish to pass through a dam over Dow’s facility.
Charles Wooley, regional director for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said he hoped the projects would revive fish and animals in the three Michigan counties.
“This restoration work can now begin even while separate, ongoing clean-up efforts continue,” Wooley said.
The Justice Department and an attorney for the Saginaw tribe did not immediately respond Friday to requests for comment.