Michigan Dam Breach: Climate Change, Meet Toxic Waste

Last week heavy rains breached two dams near Midland, Michigan. The resulting floods forced nearly 11,000 people to evacuate and seek shelter. Throughout the Midwest, torrential rains and flash floods are increasing with global climate disruption.

The dam breach wasn’t just a result of a severe storm. It’s a disaster that engineers knew was coming. In the U.S., 70 percent of dams are over 50 years old, which is about how long dams are built to last. In Michigan, a third of the dams are “high hazard,” like the two that breached.

Despite notification from federal government engineers, the owners of the dams hadn’t made the upgrades that were desperately needed on these dams. Repairing dams is expensive. Most repair projects aren’t profitable enough for hydro power companies to follow through on engineers’ advice. After all, the owners of the dams won’t be the ones fleeing the rising waters.

Nor will they be the ones living in the toxic aftermath. Dow Chemical Company, one of the three largest chemical companies in the world, has their headquarters in Midland. In 2019 alone, Dow Chemical made nearly 43 billion dollars in revenue. Their facilities in the Midland area have dumped toxic waste into rivers and lakes for decades. The flood waters breached ponds holding waste from Dow that got swept downriver with the flooding.

Dow, which has made trillions from consumer products and military poisons like napalm and Agent Orange, has made clear decisions: to poison the environment and people in Midland, MI and around the world.

No one at the top is going to make the decisions necessary to save people’s lives, homes, and well-being from the health hazards and environmental disasters that we face. For the people who live near toxic producers and dangerous dams, we should be the ones who get to make the decisions about what gets produced and what gets repaired. We’ll have to organize to make that a reality. We can’t let them make us pay for the crises they create anymore.

Featured image credit: Neil Blake/The Grand Rapids Press