DEBORAH ZABARENKO, REUTERS, JULY 11, 2006
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The cancer-causing chemical dioxin — present in some U.S. water, soil, food supplies and most Americans’ bodies — should be cleaned up to a new, much higher standard, a U.S. scientific panel reported on Tuesday.
Experts assembled by the National Academies’ National Research Council confirmed many of the findings of a 2003 report on dioxin by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which found dioxin causes cancer and reproductive and immune-system disorders in humans.
Even though the EPA draft report was made public three years ago, its findings were not reflected in policy, letting a lower cleanup standard stay in force.
The National Academies panel said at a briefing that the EPA’s recommended standards — which are as much as 10 times more stringent than the current ones — should be applied within a year or so, with no further data-gathering required.
“We’re clearing the way for EPA to release this report,” said panel chairman David Eaton, a professor at the University of Washington, Seattle. “Our recommendation is not to go back and start over.”
Dioxin and related chemicals have raised concern since the 1970s, when they were found in the herbicide Agent Orange, used by U.S. forces in the Vietnam War. These chemicals also are by-products of various industries, including paper and pulp production, incinerators and businesses that use chlorine.
Dioxin and dioxin-like compounds stay in the environment, allowing them to build up in the food chain. Most Americans ingest dioxin when they eat fatty foods including beef, pork, fish and dairy products, and others are exposed to the chemical on the job or by accident, the National Academies panel noted.
The Boston-based Center for Health, Environment and Justice hailed the National Academies report in a statement and accused industries that use chlorine of stalling enforcement of higher cleanup standards.
“The first health assessment of dioxin was in 1985,” the center’s executive director, Lois Gibbs, said in the statement. “Over the past 21 years, chlorine-based industries have demanded reviews, reassessments and analysis. … Enough is enough. Let’s get on with establishing health protective regulations.”