PESTICIDE ACTION NETWORK NORTH AMERICA UPDATES SERVICE
U.S. EPA Dioxin Reassessment: Next, LetUs Halt Chlorine Use
September 30, 1994
On September 13, 1994, the U.S. Environmental Protection
Agency released its draft reassessment of dioxin compounds.
Parts of the report had been "leaked" earlier in March and
May. The term "dioxin compounds" includes not only the most
potent dioxin (often called TCDD) but also dioxin-like
compounds such as certain dioxins, furans and PCBs.
Approximately 90% of our dioxin burden is provided by these
dioxin-like compounds and only 10% by TCDD.
The draft report demonstrates the profound potency of dioxin
and dioxin-like compounds, and the astonishing range of their
toxic effects are now beginning to be understood by everyone,
not just environmental activists. That, however, is the easy
part. What is much more difficult is to halt the production,
use and incineration of chlorinated compounds, which involves
political action and change, in addition to scientific and
Although written in a dry, sometimes unnecessarily technical
manner, the reassessment information is terrifying. The
thousand-page report includes the following findings:
1. Current, average levels of dioxin are causing damage.
The average amounts of dioxin compounds that humans and
wildlife in industrialized countries are now carrying in
their bodies cause changes in hormone levels, increased
production of certain enzymes and changes in cell function,
and create a new human cancer risk ranging from 1 in 1,000 to
1 in 10,000. In other words, average levels of dioxin
contamination are harming people and wildlife. (Dioxin
compounds are carried by the air, water, and animals
throughout the world, because most dioxin compounds are
extraordinarily persistent and build up in the food chain, in
the fats of animals such as whales and birds.)
While the EPA refers to this contamination as "background"
levels of dioxin, tissues of humans frozen from 100 years ago
contains almost no dioxin. These current "background" levels
of dioxin are the direct result of chlorine-using industries
(including the pesticide industry), which came into existence
in the 1920s. Most pesticides are chlorinated and/or
manufactured using chlorinated compounds.
2. Those who are exposed to higher than average dioxin
levels are experiencing even more damage.
Some people (and wildlife) have what the EPA calls "special"
exposures. These groups include certain occupational groups
(e.g., in chlorine-using and incineration industries), people
living near dioxin-emitters (e.g., chlorine-using pulp mills,
medical waste incinerators burning chlorinated "throw-away"
materials), nursing infants, and subsistence fishers (e.g.,
indigenous groups and others who rely on fish affected by
Dioxin compounds cause several types of cancer, disrupt the
orderly growth of organs in embryos and irreversibly impair
how the organs function, kill embryos, reduce fertility,
cause abnormalities in and reduce the size of male sexual
organs, cause the immune system to be over-active in some
cases and in other cases suppress the immune system. Immune
system impairment decreases the ability of a person to resist
viruses, bacteria, parasites and cancer. Dioxin compounds
may increase risk of diabetes and increase endometriosis in
women. (Endometriosis is a painful condition in which bits of
the tissue that lines the uterus become implanted on the
outside of the ovaries, fallopian tubes, the uterus, or its
3. The main route of dioxin contamination: chlorinated
products to incineration to our food.
In the U.S., people receive almost 90% of their dioxin
contamination from eating dioxin-contaminated milk, dairy
products, beef, pork and chicken. The terrestrial food chain
becomes contaminated primarily by dioxin compounds that
settle out of the air from incineration of chlorinated
Ironically, hospital waste incineration is listed by the EPA
as the largest source of air-borne dioxin compounds in the
U.S., and municipal waste incineration as the second. The
EPA states that together, these two sources produce about 90%
of air emissions of dioxin, although it has monitored very
few incinerators. The draft report does not mention that the
materials being incinerated include such products as
chlorinated plastics, PVC products, white paper, pesticides
and solvents from Monsanto, Dow and other chlorine-producing
and chlorine-using corporations.
Now that the EPA draft reassessment is out, the chlorine and
waste incineration industries would like us to debate further
exactly how much dioxin causes exactly which types of damage
by exactly which mechanisms.
However, more risk assessment of dioxin is not what is needed
at this point -- fifteen years ago, research showed that
dioxin caused miscarriages in monkeys at one part per
trillion parts body weight. What is needed is for
corporations, businesses and consumers to stop producing and
using chlorinated chemicals; almost no chlorine use is
currently essential. Until the production and use of
chlorine compounds (e.g., pesticides) and incineration of
chlorinated materials are eliminated, the killing and damage
Sources: Estimating Exposure to Dioxin-Like Compounds,
Volumes I-III, Review Draft, U.S. EPA, June 1994; "Dioxin
Reassessed," RACHEL's Environment & Health Weekly, #390 and
#391, Environmental Research Foundation.
Contact: Mary O'Brien, Staff Scientist, Environmental
Research Foundation; c/o P.O. Box 12056, Eugene, OR 97440;
For more information: To obtain a form to order various parts
of the reassessment (on paper or disk) from the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency, phone (513) 569-7562; fax
(513) 569-7566. To obtain a plain language, short summary of
the reassessment findings, contact the Environmental Research
Foundation and ask them to email Peter Montague's two-part
series listed above; email firstname.lastname@example.org; fax (410) 263-
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