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EPA Releases Major Report on Health Effects of Dioxin
On Feb. 17 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finally released their major report on the non-cancer health effects of dioxin, which for the past twenty seven years has been delayed due to interference from the chemical industry. Environmental and health groups across the country celebrated this important milestone.
“We applaud EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson and the Obama administration for finalizing this important health report on dioxin, one of the most toxic chemicals on the planet,” said Lois Marie Gibbs, executive director of the Center for Health, Environment & Justice (CHEJ).
“After twenty seven years of delays, I quite honestly never thought this report would ever see the light of day. Today the American people won a major victory against the chemical industry, who has been working behind closed doors for decades to hide and distort the truth about the dangers of dioxin. The science is clear—dioxin is toxic to our children’s health and development. We strongly urge the EPA to now finish the job by finishing their review on dioxin and cancer, and to develop a comprehensive action plan to further reduce dioxin emissions and exposures. To start, the EPA should finalize the EPA’s proposed cleanup standards for dioxin at toxic sites, which have been languishing at the White House OMB since 2010. We call on the Obama administration to dust off the prestigious National Academy of Sciences report on dioxin in food to explore innovative policies to reduce the levels of dioxin in the food supply.”
Dioxin is building up in our bodies as a result of the food we eat. According to EPA more than 90 percent of human exposure to dioxin occurs through our diet. Dioxin is most prevalent in meat, fish, dairy and other fatty foods.
EPA has been under enormous pressure by environmental health, environmental justice, labor, health-impacted, and Vietnam Veterans organizations to release the non-cancer health assessment in recent weeks and ever since President Obama entered office. In January a letter was delivered to EPA Administrator Jackson signed by more than 2,000 organizations and individuals. Over the past month a broad coalition of organizations have written to EPA urging the agency to finalize this report.
In January, Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA), Ranking Member of the Natural Resources Committee and senior member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, sent EPA a letter urging the agency to finalize this dioxin assessment. In April, Rep. Markey and 72 members of Congress sent a letter to EPA calling on the agency to release the report.
Dioxin is a known human carcinogen. Dioxin also causes a wide range of adverse non-cancer effects including reproductive, developmental, immunological, and endocrine effects in both animals and humans. Animal studies show that dioxin exposure is associated with endometriosis, decreased fertility, the inability to carry pregnancies to term, lowered testosterone levels, decreased sperm counts, birth defects, and learning disabilities. In children, dioxin exposure has been associated with IQ deficits, delays in psychomotor and neurodevelopment, and altered behavior including hyperactivity. Studies in workers have found lowered testosterone levels, decreased testis size, and birth defects in offspring of Vietnam veterans exposed to Agent Orange.
Dioxin’s effects on the immune system of the developing organism appear to be among the most sensitive endpoints studied. Animal studies show decreased immune response and increased susceptibility to infectious disease. In human studies, dioxin was associated with immune system depression and alterations in immune status leading to increased infections. Dioxin can also disrupt the normal function of hormones—chemical messengers that the body uses for growth and regulation. Dioxin interferes with thyroid levels in infants and adults, alters glucose tolerance, and has been linked to diabetes.
In response to anticipated concerns about dioxin in food, the Center for Health, Environment & Justice (CHEJ) has prepared these top six tips for reducing exposure to dioxin in food:
- Eat less animal fat—buy lean meats and poultry—and cut off the fat before cooking.
- Eat fat free dairy products—or as low as you can—for dairy products such as milk, cheese, and yogurt.
- Fish is a healthy food choice—but fish are also affected, so avoid fatty fish (such as salmon) and cut the fat off before cooking and eating.
- Purchase food products that have been grain or grass fed—Farm animals fed food with animal products that includes other animal’s fat increases the amount of dioxin ingested by livestock and increases the amount of dioxin that is in the consumer meat product.
- Eat more fruits and vegetables
- Breast feed your babies—breast milk is still the healthiest food for your baby.
According to EPA, dioxin releases increased by 18 percent from 2009-2010 nationally. Dioxin air releases increased by 10 percent. Some of the top U.S. companies that reported releasing dioxin into the environment in 2010 were Dow Chemical, Missouri Chemical Works, Gerdau Ameristeel, Lehigh Southwest Cement, Formosa Plastics Corporation, Temple-Inland, Cahaba Pressure Treated Forest Products, and Clean Harbors Aragonite. Three of these facilities make chemicals to produce polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic. Municipal waste incinerators, medical waste incinerators, landfill fires, and backyard burn barrels are some of the other top sources of dioxin in America.
- For a copy of EPA’s new dioxin health report, click here.
- For a fact-sheet on the hazards of dioxin, click here.
- For frequently asked questions about dioxin in food, click here.
- For a detailed history of dioxin delays, click here.
For more information, click here.
The broad coalition of organizations include: the Breast Cancer Fund, Center for Health, Environment & Justice (CHEJ), Endometriosis Association, Environmental Defense Fund, Greenpeace, International Brotherhood of Teamsters, National Medical Association, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Sierra Club, Vietnam Veterans of America, Alaska Community Action on Toxics, Canadian Environmental Law Association, Clean Water Action, Ecology Center, Edison Wetlands Association, Environmental Working Group, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, Healthy Child Healthy World, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, International POPS Elimination Network (IPEN), Ironbound Community Corporation, Kentucky Environmental Foundation, the Lone Tree Council, National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum, Physicians for Social Responsibility, Reproductive Health Technologies Project, Science & Environmental Health Network, The Endocrine Disruption Exchange, Union of Concerned Scientists, Vietnam Agent Orange Relief & Responsibility Campaign and Women’s Voices for the Earth.
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Tensions are continuing to rise in Canada over a controversial pipeline project as protesters enter their 12th day blockading railways, demonstrating on streets and highways, and paralyzing the nation's rail system
Colorado River Has Lost 1.5 Billion Tons of Water to the Climate Crisis, 'Severe Water Shortages' May Follow
California is headed toward drought conditions as February, typically the state's wettest month, passes without a drop of rain. The lack of rainfall could lead to early fire conditions. With no rain predicted for the next week, it looks as if this month will be only the second time in 170 years that San Francisco has not had a drop of rain in February, according to The Weather Channel.
The last time San Francisco did not record a drop of rain in February was in 1864 as the Civil War raged.
"This hasn't happened in 150 years or more," said Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at UCLA's Institute of the Environment and Sustainability to The Guardian. "There have even been a couple [of] wildfires – which is definitely not something you typically hear about in the middle of winter."
While the Pacific Northwest has flooded from heavy rains, the southern part of the West Coast has seen one storm after another pass by. Last week, the U.S. Drought Monitor said more Californians are in drought conditions than at any time during 2019, as The Weather Channel reported.
The dry winter has included areas that have seen devastating fires recently, including Sonoma, Napa, Lake and Mendocino counties. If the dry conditions continue, those areas will once again have dangerously high fire conditions, according to The Mercury News.
"Given what we've seen so far this year and the forecast for the next few weeks, I do think it's pretty likely we'll end up in some degree of drought by this summer," said Swain, as The Mercury News reported.
Another alarming sign of an impending drought is the decreased snowpack in the Sierra Nevada Mountain range. The National Weather Service posted to Twitter a side-by-side comparison of snowpack from February 2019 and from this year, illustrating the puny snowpack this year. The snow accumulated in the Sierra Nevadas provides water to roughly 30 percent of the state, according to NBC Los Angeles.
Right now, the snowpack is at 53 percent of its normal volume after two warm and dry months to start the year. It is a remarkable decline, considering that the snowpack started 2020 at 90 percent of its historical average, as The Guardian reported.
"Those numbers are going to continue to go down," said Swain. "I would guess that the 1 March number is going to be less than 50 percent."
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center forecast that the drier-than-average conditions may last through April.
NOAA said Northern California will continue deeper into drought through the end of April, citing that the "persistent high pressure over the North Pacific Ocean is expected to continue, diverting storm systems to the north and south and away from California and parts of the Southwest," as The Weather Channel reported.
As the climate crisis escalates and the world continues to heat up, California should expect to see water drawn out of its ecosystem, making the state warmer and drier. Increased heat will lead to further loss of snow, both as less falls and as more of it melts quickly, according to The Guardian.
"We aren't going to necessarily see less rain, it's just that that rain goes less far. That's a future where the flood risk extends, with bigger wetter storms in a warming world," said Swain, as The Guardian reported.
The Guardian noted that while California's reservoirs are currently near capacity, the more immediate impact of the warm, dry winter will be how it raises the fire danger as trees and grasslands dry out.
"The plants and the forests don't benefit from the water storage reservoirs," said Swain, as The Mercury News reported. "If conditions remain very dry heading into summer, the landscape and vegetation is definitely going to feel it this year. From a wildfire perspective, the dry years do tend to be the bad fire years, especially in Northern California."
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A warm day in winter used to be a rare and uplifting relief.
Now such days are routine reminders of climate change – all the more foreboding when they coincide with news stories about unprecedented wildfires, record-breaking "rain bombs," or the accelerated melting of polar ice sheets.
Where, then, can one turn for hope in these dark months of the year?