EPA dioxin assessment raises red flag for some
February 22nd, 2012
08:55 AM ET

EPA dioxin assessment raises red flag for some

Nearly three decades in the making, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently announced its landmark dioxin assessment with the conclusion: “Generally, over a person’s lifetime, current exposure to dioxins does not pose a significant health risk.”

But Dr. Arnold J. Schecter, a University of Texas professor of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences, says dioxins pose a risk for fetuses, newborns and people with immune deficiencies such as AIDS patients.

“Some people are going to be more susceptible because they receive a higher dose or they’re more sensitive,” says Dr. Schecter, who served on an EPA advisory panel on dioxins.

Dioxins are a class of highly toxic chemicals released into the environment by industrial production, waste incineration and forest fires. The chemicals get into the food chain and accumulate in animal fat.

Air emissions of dioxins in the United States have decreased 90% since 1987, thanks to the EPA, state and industry efforts, the agency said Friday. Even so, some dioxins are now present in every man, woman and child on the planet.

The EPA characterizes dioxins as “likely” carcinogens. They are also linked to developmental and reproductive problems, damage to the immune system, hormone disruption, skin rashes and discoloration, and mild liver damage.

Fetuses and newborns have diets relatively high in fat and their bodies are still developing, putting them at greater risk for health problems related to dioxins, Schecter says, as are people whose immune systems are already compromised.

Animal fat in the diet accounts for close to 90% of dioxin exposure in the United States, according to a 2003 National Academies of Science report on dioxins in the food supply.

With the new assessment, the EPA set the threshold for safe dioxin exposure at a toxicity equivalence (TEQ) of 0.7 picograms per kilogram of body weight per day.

Stephen Lester, science director for the Center for Health Environment & Justice, says young children may routinely be exposed to higher levels through their diets.

Lester points to the National Academies report, which found the average 1 to 5 year old's diet contained 1.09 TEQ. Boys and girls 6 to 11 years old averaged .69 TEQ.

“The EPA has mentioned that the levels in the air are going down and we’ve made great improvements and that we’ve got the problem under control, but that’s not what’s going on here,” Lester says.

Research published in 2009 put the average TEQ exposure for all Americans at .54 TEQ, assuming an average body weight of 165 pounds.

Dioxins cannot be washed off foods. Eating less or leaner meat, chicken and fish; low-fat or fat-free cheese and yogurt; and drinking skim milk will lower the dioxin content of the typical American diet, Schecter says.

“We’re lucky. The same thing that’s good for protecting our hearts and our brains from heart attacks and strokes will also protect us from the toxic effects of dioxins."

In addition to cutting fat out of the diet, CHEJ also recommends eating grain or grass fed beef. Lester says some cattle are given feed that contains animal fat, essentially recycling the dioxins.

The EPA says the amount of  dioxin in food will go decline as dioxin levels in the environment go down.

The Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture monitor dioxin in food and feed. A USDA survey of dioxins in meat is expected to be released in 2013.

"Given the success of the current dioxin reduction program, and the low levels of risk posed for consumers, additional regulatory changes by USDA or recommendations to avoid particular foods are unwarranted at this time," a USDA spokesperson said in a statement to CNN.

The 344-page EPA dioxin assessment looked only at non-cancer risks. A second report on dioxins' cancer risks will follow. No date has been set.

soundoff (60 Responses)
  1. William

    “Some people are going to be more susceptible because they receive a higher dose or they’re more sensitive,” says Dr. Schecter".

    The EPA needs to release a detailed map of the US which shows levels of exposure by locality...so we can determine if we are "those" people mentioned above. Water supply standards used to be posted online but were removed after 9-11. So we know what we eat/drink is filthy...but we don't have any gauge to tell us how much.

    February 22, 2012 at 09:29 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Rodeoguy

      Your crazy! The government will determine whats best for you, they don't want you to determine anything for yourself!

      February 22, 2012 at 17:10 | Report abuse |
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      February 23, 2012 at 03:37 | Report abuse |
    • Sraja

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      October 11, 2012 at 17:13 | Report abuse |
  2. Name*jo

    Mmmm I love me some dioxins.

    February 22, 2012 at 12:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Dave

    Yet another good reason to explore the benefits of a vegan or near vegan diet. It's good for you, for the planet, and the animals.

    February 22, 2012 at 12:47 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Becca

      Agreed. A vegan diet supplies your body with all the necessary antioxidants, vitamins and minerals to live a healthy life. We don't need meat (or milk/eggs) as whole grains and beans are full of protein.

      February 22, 2012 at 13:11 | Report abuse |
    • Heather

      Maybe... I know that I tend towards vegetarianism when I cook, but I eat meat every few weeks or so. And when I do, It tastes like the most amazing, delicious thing in the entire world. My assessment of this is that my body is missing whatever is in meat, and freaking loves it when it arrives. You may judge it differently– I have heard others say that my body is just "addicted" and this is more or less a "withdrawal". But to me, I see it as evidence that our bodies are evolved to want/need meat.

      February 22, 2012 at 13:32 | Report abuse |
    • Galina L.

      Agricultural crops destroy natural habitats, unsustainable and bad for Earth, unlike raising pastured animals. I keep myself and my family healthy by avoiding grains and buying properly produced meat and pastured eggs. I observed vegetarians, many require endless snacks during the day, some are fat especially at middle age.

      February 22, 2012 at 14:07 | Report abuse |
    • wa2go

      Hey Galina L. – Thanks very much for the laugh – that was a really funny post! (At least, I assume you were kidding. If you were actually serious, well, then I guess I hope for your family's sake that you have included them all in your will.)

      February 22, 2012 at 15:46 | Report abuse |
    • Galina L.

      Please tell me how the damage I was doing for myself should be manifested? I am 51, with perfect blood pressure, lost more than 30 lb on my no-grain no sugar diet, blood test looks excellent for my doctor, I even stopped having seasonal flues since I went on my diet more than 4 years ago. There are other things that got better like allergies and pre-menopause symptoms. All that vegetarian propaganda just creates more sick people.

      February 22, 2012 at 17:23 | Report abuse |
    • Kate

      I agree with you. The dioxin comes from the environment but is stored in the fat of animals and makes it's way into our bodies through meat consumption. Our ancestor's diet's consisted mostly of meat, but it was lean meat from wild animals and free of chemicals. I recently saw a program about human evolution that stated "there is no evidence that the diets of early humans consisted of anything other than meat". So humans evolved as carnivores, but the evidence also shows that early humans didn't live very long. If I remember correctly, the average lifespan of early humans was around 35 years of age. Could their short life spans have been caused due to high meat consumption or an extremely harsh life or both? As for grains, they didn't exist in our diets until the last 10,000 years so consumption of grains was not part of our evolution. The fact that so many people have allergies to wheat has got to be proof that grains are probably an unnecessary part of our diet and for some can be quite harmful. The same cannot be said of fruits and vegetables. It's common knowledge that consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables on a regular basis is very healthy for the human body but the pesticides that come with them are not. So maybe people who want to live a long, disease free healthy life, should eat a lot of organic, locally grown fruits and vegetables, organic eggs and a small amount of grass fed lean meat and noting else if we want to a long disease free life.

      February 24, 2012 at 02:23 | Report abuse |
  4. Michael

    There has been an interesting reversal in risk determination from toxilogical assessments for dioxin and PCB's lately whereas PCB's congener risk concerns are being narrowed to dioxin-like and the TEQ's associated. Meaning if your fish is contaminated with PCB's that are not dioxin-like then the health risk determination is low. Personally I do not like this merely from lack of caution regarding what we may not be aware of at this time.
    Fish (especially fatty types) I believe more than beef can be a source of dioxin and dioxin-like PCB’s especially since there is limited oversight on imports.
    Still I believe that things are getting better with the efforts that have been made through regulatory agencies…I just hope they stay true and health risk reduction efforts are not compromised by economic domination

    February 22, 2012 at 13:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Riverwheeler

    All these chemicals cause cancer and I believe certain birth defects. They should be totally banned. This also goes with preserrvatives that are in processed cheese. That is why we have so much cancer.

    February 22, 2012 at 14:44 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Heather


      February 22, 2012 at 16:44 | Report abuse |
  6. Laur

    There is always something new to worry about. These articles are going to kill me, not dioxins!!

    February 22, 2012 at 14:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. c

    Backyard burning is also a source of dioxin pollution.

    February 22, 2012 at 15:16 | Report abuse | Reply
    • wa2go

      Yes, but don't forget front yard burning, too.

      February 22, 2012 at 15:47 | Report abuse |
    • Rody

      Buddy, our government keeps the most aavcnded of our weapons secret. The United States is light years ahead of China and the rest of the world. They may flex a little muscle, but even the stuff we admit to having is light-years ahead of their stuff. What do you thing Unidentified Flying Objects are? They are U.S. craft, plain and simple. Our country has nothing to fear from China, as long as the Clinton's or other radical lefties are kept out of power. Hopefully, we will get a real third-party president in the near future as both most republicans and most democrats are interested in only personal gain. The only reason China has what it has is because of the Clinton's paying for so many Chinese nationalists to come over here and study (conduct espionage).

      March 5, 2012 at 22:12 | Report abuse |
  8. Elizabeth

    It has been proven in a double-blind study that dioxin causes endometriosis. See the Endometriosis Association. They took over an experiment that a company had done on a group of monkeys; they performed laparoscopic surgery on all the monkeys. Those who had been exposed to dioxin 10 years before had serious endometriosis. Before the surgery, the researchers had discovered one that had died of endometriosis. How is that possible? All the organs were covered with endometriosis lesions and adhesions, and the blood supply to the intestines had been cut off. This is far more common than the medical community will admit. Death certificates never say "endometriosis" or "dioxin," but instead say "necrotic intestines" or "kidney failure" or something else, and therefore many women (and female animals) suffer without any research or support. There is clear evidence of dioxin toxicity, but this new "finding" simply ignores the facts.

    February 22, 2012 at 17:58 | Report abuse | Reply
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