Warehouse G

Dioxin Everywhere

Revived EPA Zeroing In On Dow Chemical’s Toxic Mess

By James Donahue

The evidence is already clear that the new Obama Administration is rekindling the nation’s laws, some drafted up to 30 years ago to protect the environment. The Environmental Protection Agency, virtually silenced for eight long years by executive orders penned by George W. Bush, is suddenly coming alive again and it has teeth.

The EPA has just announced a freeze on “negotiations” with Dow Chemical Company over how dioxin contamination found in a 50-mile area of the Saginaw Bay watershed will be cleaned up. The agency also says it is speeding the release of its reassessment of the danger the toxin is creating too citizens, farm animals and wildlife living in the area. The report and the clean-up talks were instituted in the form of stall tactics that prevented efforts by citizens, environmental groups and local governments to get anything done during the years Bush remained in office.

Dow already has agreed to remove dioxin contamination at West Michigan Park in Saginaw Township. Company lawyers also appeared in the Michigan Supreme Court last week which is considering an environmental class action suit against Dow.

Dioxin, a by-product of the chemical manufacturing process, is a known carcinogen that is regulated by state and federal agencies. New EPA studies show that dioxin is more toxic than once thought because it attacks the endocrine and immune systems, effects fetal development of babies, and may be linked to a long list of human and animal health problems.

The online publication Michigan Messenger quoted EPA spokeswoman Suzanne Ackerman as saying the Obama Administration “is familiar with the history of this issue and will be focusing on expediting the study.”

She was referring to the new revised report based on new studies that apparently show just how dangerous human exposure to dioxin can be. The publication quoted Mike Schade of the Center for Health, Environment and Justice, as saying that lifting the Bush imposed Science Advisory Board review of the EPA report now allows the EPA to “move forward in developing protective dioxin policies and standards.”

Schade said the report has existed in draft form since early 1990 and (for obvious political reasons) has never been made public.

Dow apparently will be getting help from the federal Superfund, which helps in major cleanup of costly toxic spills caused by industry and accidental discharge. Plans are to remove and replace toxic topsoil, replace some concrete with asphalt and stabilize the bank along the Saginaw River. The company also has proposed cleaning the playground equipment used by children.

While the government report is still being kept under wraps, there is a lot of information already well known about the dangers of dioxins, and the seriousness of its effects on human health.

The name dioxin describes a group of hundreds of chemicals and chemical compounds created by the burning of chlorine with hydrocarbons. It is not only produced by plastic, chemical and paper manufacturing plants, but is a by-product of waste incineration and just burning home produced trash in burn barrels behind the house.

Dioxin is now found just about everywhere you might look for it, in the soil, water, our food and in our bodies. The International Agency for Research on Cancer, a division of the World Health Organization, has determined that the most potent form of dioxin in a class one carcinogen. This means it causes cancers in humans that mostly form in the fatty areas of the body like the breast and male prostate.

Even small amounts of dioxin are known to cause nervous disorders and problems with the human reproductive system. It also is linked to heart attacks. An earlier EPA report stated that there appears to be “no safe level of exposure to dioxin” and that even trace amounts of exposure can hit us in the immune system and interfere with regulatory hormones.

Since chemical plants began producing large amounts of dioxin about 60 years ago, the sperm count in men worldwide has dropped to 50 percent of what it was then. Also the incidence of testicular cancer has tripled and prostate cancer has doubled.

Endometriosis, a painful growth outside the uterus, once a rare condition, now 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 the substance. Pregnant woman, however, can pass it on to their babies while they are in the womb, and later feed it to the children in fatty breast milk. Consequently breast-fed babies, especially from non-vegetarian mothers, are ingesting large quantities of dioxin before they can even walk.

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

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

Even though dioxins are already known to be a major threat to public health and safety, advocacy groups like the American Public Health Association say world governments are not doing much to protect public health. In the U.S., for example, no agency is monitoring dioxin levels in foods or even taking a serious look at the health effects of dioxin and other synthetic chemicals that get in the food chain.

Perhaps the Obama Administration will be the first to attempt to do something about this serious issue. We can no longer bury our heads in the sand and hope the problem just goes away.