Dioxin: Worse Than We Thought
There is a new threat from the old chemical, dioxin. A draft report by The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says dioxin may be ten times more likely to cause cancer than previously estimated. The EPA report suggests a relatively high risk of cancer from exposure to dioxin for older people who eat large amounts of fatty meats and dairy products contaminated with the chemical. Children, too, may be at risk since the toxin is linked to developmental delays, disruption of hormone secretions, and irregularities of the immune system. The draft concludes that children's intake of dioxin is greater than that of adults because the chemical is found in dairy products, even breast milk.
Dioxins have been present in the environment since the 1800's. The term "dioxin" actually refers to a group of more than 100 chemicals with a similar chemical structure that includes chlorine. Dioxin is formed when chlorine - containing chemicals, like plastics or industrial wastes, are burned, whether in a municipal incinerator or a home wood - burning stove. The chemical enters the food chain when animals eat contaminated plants, and it accumulates in the fat of mammals and fish.
Rick Hind with Greenpeace says the EPA's report is overdue, but the agency needs to go one step further, according to an article in The New York Times. "They prefer to look largely at the endpoints - what some call 'blame the victim.' Don't burn trash in your backyard. Eat a low-fat diet - that's not enough." Since many dioxins contain chlorine or are by-products of processes involving chlorine compounds, Hind says Greenpeace is demanding a ban on all industrial uses of chlorine.
But other experts question the findings, The New York Times reports. Dr. Michael Gough, a former government scientist says "There has been no epidemiological study in the last five years, since their last assessment, that makes that claim any more credible."
The EPA emphasizes the draft report is not the final word, that it awaits additional scientific review. The agency stresses that the study should not dissuade people from eating a well-balanced diet, including low-fat foods, dairy products and vegetables even though they may contain some dioxin residues. Experts point out that eating a low-fat diet with lots of fruits and vegetables, regular exercise and not smoking are still the best recommendations for preventing cancer.
Green Home urges you to be a part of the solution, not a part of the problem. Exercise your vote with your dollar. Don't buy bleached paper products, cut down on your use of plastics (including little items, such as baby pacifiers, plastic food containers, and ice cube trays), and never, never, never burn plastic.
© 2000, Deb Kabasakalis.