January 27th, 2012
11:04 AM ET
With the EPA's deadline only days away, a war of words has erupted over whether the agency should go ahead with a dioxin study decades in the making.
Vietnam veterans, environmental advocates and women’s groups were among the more than 2,000 individuals and organizations signing a letter Thursday urging EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson to publish the dioxin risk assessment.
“We are writing to strongly urge you to finalize the EPA’s study on dioxin, which has been delayed for over 25 years,” the one-page letter says.
The EPA has said it would release its non-cancer risk assessment for dioxin by the end of the month, with the agency’s dioxin cancer risk assessment following “as expeditiously as possible.”
The chemical industry and a number of food groups have written the EPA administrator saying the anticipated standards would be misleading and bad for business.
EPA, which published its first dioxin-related report in 1983, has been working ever since on defining the risks for dioxins, a family of chemicals characterized by the EPA as “likely human carcinogens.” They accumulate in the fatty tissues of animals and move up the food chain. Exposure comes primarily from meat, dairy, fish and shellfish.
Dioxin exposure has been linked to learning disabilities, birth defects, endometriosis and diabetes. The developing fetus and newborns, exposed through breast milk, are considered particularly vulnerable to dioxin exposure.
Almost every man, woman and child on the planet has some dioxin in their bodies, though exposures to the chemicals have declined over the last two decades as the result of tougher regulations in some countries, according to the World Health Organization.
Most dioxins are byproducts of such industrial processes as waste incineration, the chlorine bleaching of paper pulp and the manufacture of some herbicides and pesticides. Dioxin was an impurity in Agent Orange, a defoliant used extensively in Vietnam.
Paul Sutton, 67, among the letter’s signors, served two tours in the Marine Corps in Vietnam. Sutton says he was exposed to dioxin when he sprayed the perimeter of firebases with Agent Orange. All three sons were born with birth defects, he said, which he blames on his dioxin exposure.
“Going back to the first Bush Administration, George Herbert Walker Bush, we have been at loggerheads with the Environmental Protection Agency with the reassessment of dioxin, which was originally supposed to have been published in 1990,” he said.
In a statement, Lois Marie Gibbs, Executive Director of the Center for Health, Environment & Justice, said the EPA “has repeatedly allowed the chemical industry to delay its efforts to finalize its study.”
Scott Jensen, with American Chemistry Council, said the industry group fears the EPA dioxin standards will raise unfounded fears about the safety of the food supply. He pointed to the Department of Agriculture’s “MyPlate” recommendations for a healthy diet.
“If you follow through on the USDA guidelines, you will have a fair amount of population exceeding what EPA says is an acceptable level of dioxin,” Jensen said.
The American Farm Bureau Federation and a number of other food groups co-signed a letter to the EPA earlier this month saying, “We remain concerned agency actions will inadvertently mislead and frighten consumers about the safety of food and may trigger negative trading partner actions, either of which could have a major negative economic impact on U.S. food producers.”
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