Families Believe Homes Have no Value Due to Dioxin

Gary and Kathy Henry and 24 others have filed a class action lawsuit against The Dow Chemical Co.

When Gary and Kathy Henry first considered buying their Freeland waterfront property, they ran straight for the river.

"We wanted to be near the water," Gary remembers. "We didn’t even look at the house." Nineteen years later, the flowing water is the enemy. Floods have deposited contamination on their property. The land and the gray-blue ranch-style home that sits on it are worthless, the Henrys say.

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality in 2002 issued a warning that there should be no contact with soil around the house. Children should stay away from the riverbank and dirt should be washed thoroughly and immediately from skin. Gardening should be done only in coveralls. Shoes should always be worn.

Downriver in Saginaw, Wendy and Dennis Domino received a similar notice and immediately put their Stroebel Road home up for sale.

"It was frightening," Domino said. "We were extremely panicked."

Wendy called The Dow Chemical Co., whose historical manufacturing processes are believed to have produced and released the dioxin.

"I told them, ‘Why don’t you buy my house. No one else will,’" Domino said.

Dow representatives came to visit, and over the next two months, the company paid for two appraisals of the Domino home.

"Consistent with our commitment to be responsive to the community, Dow agreed to fund an appraisal for a resident on the Tittabaswassee River," Dow spokeswoman Terri Johnson said. The couple believed Dow was planning to answer their request to buy the house. Later, Wendy said, she and her husband were advised to sell the home on their own.

"They told us ‘Dow is not in the real estate business,’" she said. To that, she said she answered: "I’m not in the toxic clean-up business, either." Johnson said the results of the appraisal showed that the dioxin had not impacted the property’s value.

Five purchase agreements and five broken deals later, the Dominos believe it has. "We listed our house and every time a buyer saw the dioxin warning, they ran like hell," Wendy Domino said.

The Dominos and others who filed the class action suit against Dow say they are stuck in their dioxin-drenched yards. Buyers won’t look at their property and non-disclosure is not an option, legally or morally.

"Morally, there’s no gray area," Wendy said. "The buck has to stop somewhere."

Filing the suit against Dow Tuesday was a last resort, say the 26 residents who have joined the effort.

"We had hoped that the state and officials and Dow were going to do something," said John Taylor, a Thomas Township flood plain property owner. That didn’t happen.

"I dread the thought of waiting and appeals and expense," said Domino, who hopes the matter will be settled out of court. Others think a settlement is unlikely.

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