23. Dioxin: Still Deadly After All These Years (and
All That Hype)
Source: EARTH ISLAND JOURNAL Date: Spring 1995; "EPA Study Reveals
Dioxin Dangers"; Author: Stephen Lester
SYNOPSIS: When the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) long
awaited "reassessment" of the health effects of dioxin was
finally released in draft form in September 1994, it indicated that
dioxin's health impacts were worse than previously reported. The preliminary
EPA study confirmed what grassroots activists have feared: dioxin, a
by-product of chemical processes that use chlorine, does irreparable
damage to the human body.
Yet, for a full year, these findings have gone almost unnoticed by
the mass media. These are the same media that widely publicized a 1991
report by The Centers for Disease Control that found dioxin was less
harmful than previously suspected and subsequently led the EPA to consider
These were upbeat dioxin stories on how we've been confused once again
by experts who can't seem to agree on anything. There was even an "NBC
Nightly News" mention (8/15/91) of how folks from the contaminated,
condemned, and evacuated Times Beach area along the Mississippi River,
were wondering if it might be okay to go home again.
But the recent unpublicized EPA report found that dioxin levels 100
times lower than those associated with developing cancer may cause severe
reproductive and developmental effects, and disrupt regulatory hormones
in industrial workers and laboratory animals.
Ninety percent of dioxin enters the human body through the food chain.
Dioxin particles produced by industrial processes and waste lodge in
soil, settle on plants, and contaminate water systems. People then eat
fish, meat, and produce that contain low but hazardous dioxin levels.
The report details how dioxin and dioxin-like chemicals damage the body
by "attaching" to specific receptor sites in cell tissues.
When hormones and enzymes are displaced, certain normal cell functions
cannot be carried out. The report clearly suggests that, despite earlier
reports, no amount of exposure to dioxin is safe.
Dioxin is created as a byproduct of the manufacturing process by chemical
companies; plastics producers; makers of rubber, dyes and pesticides;
pulp and paper mills that use chlorine bleaches; and incinerator plants.
The report does not mention corporate producers of dioxin, such as
Dow or Monsanto, who stand to lose if the EPA clamps down on dioxin
releases. For years, these companies have orchestrated a political and
scientific campaign to confuse the public and create a bureaucratic
Corporations could face billion-dollar lawsuits for health and environmental
damage caused by dioxin exposures. But they stand to save millions of
dollars if they can settle pending lawsuits before the EPA reassessment
is finalized, because the final report would give complainants greater
evidence that dioxin is hazardous.
The Virginia-based Citizens Clearinghouse for Hazardous Waste has called
for an immediate halt to the incineration of hazardous waste and a phaseout
of chlorinated organic compounds in all industrial production. Greenpeace's
Zero Dioxin campaign argues that processes that create dioxin must either
be altered so that no dioxin is produced, or banned.
SSU Censored Researcher: Mary Jo Thayer
COMMENTS: The significance of the recent findings of the health
dangers of dioxin received very little attention from the mainstream
press, according to investigative author Stephen Lester. "To my
knowledge, there was no TV coverage, no coverage by the news weeklies
and only minor coverage by several major newspapers. Given that dioxin
is the most potent carcinogen for the general population ever tested;
that we know that dioxin is coming from incinerators, paper mills and
chemical processing plants; and that it is getting into dairy products,
meat, fish and breast milk, you'd think that the issue would have received
more than the cursory attention of the chemical trade press and one
day of "here's EPA's newest report' in the Washington Post and
New York Times."
Lester warned that dioxin is the DDT of the '90s. "It is persistent,
pervasive and showing up in the bodies of people all over the world.
It differs from DDT in that the main concern with DDT was its carcinogenicity.
With dioxin, not only is it a potent carcinogen, but its non-cancer
causing effects (infertility, depressed immune response, endometriosis,
loss of sex drive, diabetes) occur at very low levels, levels already
found in the general population. These and other non-cancer effects
may prove to be more important than dioxin's ability to cause cancer.
We have to know what dioxin is, where it is coming from, and how it's
hurting us before we can do anything about it. And, we need to know
that we can do something about it. Not lifestyle changes, but saving
Lester charges corporate America is benefiting from the limited media
coverage given dioxin. "More specifically, the chemical and paper
industry that does not want to alter its production practices to eliminate
the chemicals (largely chlorine) that generate dioxin as a by-product
of production. Industry says that we need more studies and they hire
high powered public relations firms to argue their points and deluge
the mainstream media with issues designed to confuse and defuse the
press's interest. Government is reluctant to act and finds it easiest
to do nothing but study and study and study and study ..."
The organization Lester works for, the Citizens Clearinghouse for Hazardous
Waste, has begun a campaign to educate the American public about the
dangers of dioxin. "We have written several additional articles
for our newsletter, prepared "campaign kits,' sent copies to grassroots
environmental organizations and to the mainstream press. We have written
and published a book -- Dying from Dioxin (South End Press, 1995) --
and have begun efforts to create alliances with organizations across
the country to educate people and begin to eliminate dioxin exposures.
Still, there has been very little media interest and coverage of this