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EPA Releases Major Report on Health Effects of Dioxin

Center for Health, Environment & Justice

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:

  1. Eat less animal fat—buy lean meats and poultry—and cut off the fat before cooking.
  2. Eat fat free dairy products—or as low as you can—for dairy products such as milk, cheese, and yogurt.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Eat more fruits and vegetables
  6. 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.

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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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