EPA releases new dioxin report

Published September 1, 2000

A new study draft released by the Environmental Protection Agency in June labels dioxin “carcinogenic to humans,” concluding the risk of getting cancer from dioxin exposure is 10 times higher than reported in a controversial “draft” study the agency released in 1994. The final version of the draft report is expected to be released this fall.

Medical and municipal waste incineration, plus pulp and paper processing, are thought to be the source of most man-made dioxin emissions. However, an EPA study issued in January concluded a single trash-burning barrel in a homeowner’s backyard can release as much dioxin into the air as a well-controlled municipal waste incinerator.

According to the Chlorine Chemistry Council, which represents chlorine manufacturers, dioxin emissions in the U.S. have fallen 75 percent between 1987 and 1995. New EPA standards for municipal, medical, and hazardous waste incinerators are expected to cut emissions from these sources by an additional 95 percent, while new rules for pulp and paper mills will reduce emissions by more than 90 percent.

Until EPA’s June announcement, the consensus among experts was that exposure to background levels of dioxin did not pose a health risk. In February, EPA’s Web site still said “while dioxin has been shown to be toxic to certain lab animals, evidence is lacking that it has serious long-term effects on humans.”

Dr. Albert C. Kolbye, a former assistant U.S. Surgeon General and past president of the International Society of Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology, says, “for the most part, dioxins et al. are non-problems for the American people and others for the simple reason that human exposures are very low and non-effective in creating damage to human health.”

Using the oddly elliptical language required by proponents of the “precautionary principle,” EPA says “The lack of clear indication of disease in the general population attributable to dioxin-like compounds should not be considered strong evidence for no effects of exposure to dioxins. Rather a lack of clear indication of disease may be the result of the inability of our current data and scientific tools to directly detect effects at these levels of exposure.”

Dr. Jay Lehr, a nationally prominent environmental scientist and hydrologist, said EPA’s logic “defies common sense.”

“The purpose of health regulations,” he says, “is to safeguard public health from hazards discovered through careful research and sound science. To say we should pass regulations even though a hazard has not been found, simply because it might exist, is to defeat the entire purpose of calling for scientific investigation in the first place. It is a prescription for waste and public hysteria.”