In August 2011, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that they would complete their reanalysis of non-cancer health effects of dioxin and post the results by the end of January 2012. The EPA also promised to move on to the cancer portion of the Reanalysis as expeditiously as possible. For the sake of public health, we sent a letter to the EPA this week urging the agency to move forward with this plan without further delay.
Since 1985, EPA’s assessment of health risks from dioxin has been delayed time after time, while Americans continue to be exposed to toxic dioxin and dioxin-like compounds. (IATP called for the EPA to act on dioxin back in 2000.) While dioxin might not be on the radar of the average American, it continues to be a key environmental pollutant and a big contributor to the toxic body burden of the U.S. population. An extensive body of science links exposure to dioxin to cancer and adverse effects on development.
Dioxins are unintentional byproducts of industrial processes like metal smelting and refining, chemical manufacturing, biological and photochemical processes and combustion. Burning chlorine-containing products, like polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic, generates dioxin.
Dioxins released into the air from combustion settle on grasslands, where grazing cows ingest them, and in water bodies where they build up in fish. Dioxins can also accumulate in animal feed. Fetuses are at greatest risk from exposure to dioxins, which cross the placenta during pregnancy. This means that a mother’s body burden of dioxins is passed on to her fetus.
We are all exposed to dioxin in the food system, specifically in fish, meat and dairy products. When IATP gives parents advice on how to reduce their exposure to food contaminants, we caution them to eat smaller fish and avoid dioxin in fatty foods. However, dietary advice goes only so far. We also need active policies to reduce dioxin in the environment, so that nursing mothers don’t have to worry about dioxin in their breast milk.
EPA’s dioxin reassessment is an important step in addressing the critical public health issue of widespread human exposure to dioxin. We urge EPA to make good on its promise to finalize the non-cancer dioxin health assessment by the end of January and to move ahead with the cancer assessment as quickly as possible. Then the EPA should take the next steps to implement policies that protect American families from toxic dioxin.