It has taken decades, but today (February 17, 2012) the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its assessment of dioxins finally defining how toxic they are. This new assessment is in two parts and today’s release includes only the non-cancer effects of dioxins. While the new assessment is just that, an assessment, and doesn’t include any enforceable dioxin standards or protection rules, it’s a major advancement and does go a long way towards protecting Americans. The new assessment will likely help form some hefty guidelines surrounding cleanup of Superfund and other hazardous waste sites, industrial emission controls, drinking water standards and dietary guidelines for fish. Lois Marie Gibbs, executive director of the Center for Health, Environment & Justice, said in a statement: “After 27 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.”
In studies, dioxins have been called the most toxic man-made chemicals. Dioxins build up in the food supply, mostly in fish, meat and other animal products, and then people eat said food. Dioxins include a group of about 30 toxic compounds, including the infamous chemical in Agent Orange and they are byproducts of combustion emitted by waste incinerators, forest fires, backyard burning of trash, chemical manufacturing plants, pulp mills, smelters and other facilities. In 2012, the EPA set the daily acceptable dioxins exposure level at 0.7 picograms of dioxins per kilogram of body weight, a figure most health and environmental groups criticized the EPA for, in part because actual protection of people from these chemicals hasn’t been covered. On the flip-side, major chemical industry groups said that the EPA numbers were too low and would only serve to alarm consumers and drive up regulation costs. That said, consumers should be alarmed by dioxins.
Dioxins are extremely persistent chemicals in the environment and in human bodies. Once someone or an environment is exposed, dioxins stick around for a good long while causing trouble and by now almost every living thing on this planet has been exposed. Countless studies have linked dioxins to cancer, disrupted hormones, reproductive damage such as decreased fertility, neurological effects in children and adults, immune system changes and skin disorders. As we’ve noted before, major research completed by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) has shown that a nursing infant ingests an amount or dioxins almost 80 times higher than what the EPA says is safe, while adults are exposed to 1,200 times more dioxin than the EPA suggests is safe. Yikes. Olga Naidenko, PhD, senior scientist with the Environmental Working Group notes:
“Our bodies, our children’s bodies and our food supply have all been contaminated with dioxin for decades as a result of unregulated industrial emissions. Today’s decision will serve as the cornerstone of the agency’s initiatives to protect public health from chemical contaminants and provide the necessary guidance to states and public health agencies to minimize dioxin exposure.”
What’s next?: Now that the first part of the assessment has finally been released, health and environmental activists are urging the EPA to complete the cancer part of the assessment and develop a plan for reducing emissions and exposures. Stay tuned to Environmental Health News, as they’ll be updating coverage of this dioxins breakthrough ongoing.
Lead image by Flickr User Taras Kalapun