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Our Food is Laced With Deadly Dioxin

By James Donahue

Among the long list of evil things getting into the human food chain is a common chemical by-product from industrial, commercial and residential burning that goes by a general term: dioxin.

The name dioxin describes a group of hundreds of chemicals and various chemical compounds created from the burning of chlorine with hydrocarbons. It is produced in many industrial processes; most commonly in plastic plants, the bleaching process in pulp and paper mills, chemical and pesticide manufacturing, and waste incineration. Because these plants exist in almost every corner of the United States, and people still insist on burning trash in burn barrels in their back yards, you can find dioxin in the soil, our water, our food, and worst of all, in our bodies.

If you are thinking ho-hum, here we go again with another food scare, consider this.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer, part of the World Health Organization, determines that the most potent form of dioxin is a class one carcinogen. That means it causes cancer in humans. It is mostly linked to cancers that form in the fatty areas of the body like the breast and male prostate.

Small minute amounts of dioxin are known to cause nervous disorders and a variety of health problems linked to the human reproductive system. It also is linked to heart attacks and a wide variety of other health problems.

A report by the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency states that there appears to be "no safe level of exposure to dioxin," that even trace amounts of this compound can be linked to adverse health effects. Not only is it a cancer causing agent, exposure to dioxin can "cause severe reproductive and developmental problems," and "cause immune system damage and interfere with regulatory hormones."

The EPA study also found that the general U.S. population is "carrying around levels of dioxin that are probably causing, or will cause adverse health effects."

Here are some statistics that might make you sit up and take notice.

Since the chemical plants began producing dioxins in large amounts about 50 years ago, the sperm count in men worldwide has dropped to 50 percent of what it was then.

The incidence of testicular cancer has tripled and prostate cancer has doubled.

Endometriosis, the painful growth outside the uterus of cells that normally line the uterus, once a rare condition, not afflicts 5 million American women.

In 1960, a woman's chance of developing breast cancer during her lifetime was one in 20. Now it is one in eight.

Dioxins collect in the human body, mostly in the fat cells. Men have no way to get rid of dioxins. Pregnant women, on the other hand, can pass it on to their babies while they are in the womb, and later feed it to the children in fatty breast milk. Thus breast-fed babies, especially from non-vegetarian mothers, are ingesting large quantities of this deadly chemical before they can even walk.

One of the big culprits in this horror story has been our love for fast food, meat and fatty dairy products. Government studies show that dioxins also collect in the fat in farm animals, and are passed on to humans who consume these animals or their by-products that include milk, cheese, and eggs. Another high-risk food is fish, especially the fish from inland lakes and streams where dioxin levels are high.

Arnold Schecter, an international medical expert on dioxins and an advisor to the World Health Organization, said the only way for people in industrialized countries to avoid the intake of dioxins is to eat food that is low in fat. And in the United States that means our diet should be restricted mostly to fruit, grains and vegetables.

While dioxins are clearly shown to be highly toxic and a certain threat to public health and safety, world governments are doing little if anything to protect the public, according to advocacy groups like the American Public Health Association (APHA).

In the U.S., for example, no agency is monitoring dioxin levels in foods, or even looking at the health effects of dioxin and other synthetic chemicals that end up in our food. Yet the threat of dioxin, and its presence, has been known for several years.

I suspect that the reason for this is that the cost of cleaning up this particular industrial mess is so overwhelming nobody wants to take a serious look at it. Like so many other evil things we do that are affecting our environment, the production and consumption of dioxin is something neither our industrial leaders nor our government wants to deal with.

The policy seems to be to continue business as usual, bury our heads in the sand, and hope the problem just goes away.