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Dow Chemical Joins Environmentalists in Pollution Prevention Project.

A unique coalition of environmental organizations, citizen activists, and the Dow Chemical Company announced in July that they have achieved dramatic pollution savings over a two-year period at one of the nation's largest chemical-manufacturing plants. The production process rather than traditional "end-of-pipe" cleanup was the focus of the project, which brought activists and plant managers together for face-to-face discussions on priorities and methods. The team of experts and activists devised and implemented new production techniques that have cut pollution more than 37 percent while saving Dow Chemical millions of dollars at its plant in Midland, Michigan.

Linda E. Greer, Ph.D., senior scientist for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), which spearheaded the effort, said that the new model "doesn't replace the need for environmental regulation, but it does provide a new avenue for achieving environmental goals: good for business, good for the environment."

Dr. Greer cited the combination of three ingredients as critical to the project's success:

* community input on project design and follow-through,

* outside engineering expertise, and

* Dow's willingness to engage forthrightly in the process.

The pollution prevention initiative was launched two years ago to test the proposition that large-scale pollution prevention could be accomplished at a reasonable cost. NRDC, joined by Diane Hebert and Mary Sinclair, two midland residents, as well as by representatives from Lone Tree Council, Citizens for Alternatives to Chemical Contamination, and the Ecology Center of Ann Arbor, negotiated with Dow on targeting a list of high-priority toxic chemicals emitted from the plant. They established a quantitative reduction goal of 35 percent for wastes and 25 percent for releases within two years. The group also established goals for longer-term institutional changes within Dow.

Dow retained an expert engineer, Bill Bilkovich of Environmental Quality Consultants in Tallahassee Florida, to seek opportunities for reductions at the plant. The group met quarterly to review progress and problems and employed a professional facilitator, John Ehrmann, Ph.D., of the Meridian Institute in Dillon, Colorado. Ehrmann assisted in project design, ran meetings, and worked to overcome a variety of difficulties.

The project focused on reducing carcinogens, hormone disrupters, and chlorinated compounds, which, when burned, create dioxins and furans. Reduction goals were surpassed, and the Midland project will serve as a prototype for reduction opportunities elsewhere in the company Globally, Dow Chemical has committed to using pollution prevention techniques to achieve a 50 percent reduction in wastes and emissions by 2005. The company also has committed to 75 percent reductions in compounds on a high-priority list.

Nevertheless, "longer-term and broader institutional changes at Dow are less certain," according to Greer. "The remaining - and significant - challenge for Dow is to institutionalize this success throughout the company. Though the Midland reforms were profitable in dollar terms, Dow has other investment options that are even more profitable. Until Dow attaches greater institutional value to environmental savings, we're always going to be swimming upstream."
COPYRIGHT 1999 National Environmental Health Association
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Copyright 1999, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Publication:Journal of Environmental Health
Date:Oct 1, 1999
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