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EWG Urges EPA to Finalize Dioxin Toxicity Assessment

202-667-6982
alex@ewg.org
For Immediate Release: 
Tuesday, July 13, 2010

WASHINGTON, D.C. – A review of research conducted by independent laboratories and the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) shows that one of the most widespread and hazardous contaminants known to science enters the human body early in life at levels far higher than the EPA deems safe.

Dioxin, a known carcinogen and endocrine-disruptor, is a byproduct of combustion and various industrial processes and is found everywhere in the environment and in people. Chlorinated dioxins form as an unintended byproduct of waste incineration, burning household waste and a variety of industrial processes, including smelting, chlorine paper bleaching and pesticide manufacturing. The chemical has been linked to multiple outbreaks of disease and cancer triggered by high-level exposures at least as far back as 1949.

EWG research found that the amount of dioxin a nursing infant ingests daily is up to 77 times higher than the level EPA has proposed to protect the endocrine and immune systems. The fact that both breast milk and formula are contaminated with dioxin highlights the urgent need for EPA to finish its assessment. For cancer risk, the situation is also concerning: the general public is exposed to up to 1,200 times more dioxin than regulatory agencies typically consider safe.

EWG’s report and timeline on dioxin can be found here: http://www.ewg.org/dioxin/home

It has been nearly 30 years since EPA first began looking at the health effects of dioxin. The agency now appears poised to embrace a safe exposure limit for the first time based on the most up-to-date science, action that many in the environmental and public health communities have been calling on for years.

The agency’s scientific review and its proposed safety limit is being reviewed in a public meeting Tuesday and Wednesday, July 13-14, by the EPA’s Science Advisory Board at a two-day meeting in Washington.

“Every day the EPA waits to take action on dioxin is another day millions of Americans, including breast-fed babies are ingesting this contaminant at levels the agency itself deems unsafe,” said EWG Senior Scientist Olga Naidenko. “The action promised by Administrator Jackson to complete the long-awaited reassessment of dioxin by this year is very encouraging, and we want to make sure EPA follows through.”

Scientists have increasingly recognized that continuous, low-dose exposure to dioxin-like compounds is a health threat. EPA’s reanalysis noted that these low-level exposures are all but unavoidable because dioxins are widespread in the environment and build up in the food chain, by accumulating in the tissues of animals, especially in fat. As a consequence, exposures begin in the womb when dioxins cross the placenta, and newborn infants begin to ingest them from the very first days of life in mother’s milk and formula.

The EPA is focusing on a particular form called tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin, or TCDD, the most toxic and best studied of this family of chemicals. EWG’s analysis noted that TCDD “has been associated with a panoply of adverse health effect in people,” including heart disease, diabetes, cancer, endometriosis, early menopause, reduced testosterone and thyroid hormones, immune system disorders and abnormalities of the skin, teeth and nails.

“Twenty-five years after publishing its first assessment of dioxin, EPA has yet to establish a safe daily dose for human exposure to this hazardous chemical. TCDD may well be one of the most-studied of all chemical pollutants. There is a large and persuasive body of research dating from the 1950s showing that dioxin undermines fetal development, damages the reproductive and immune systems and increases the risk of cancer,” said EWG’s Naidenko in remarks delivered Tuesday to EPA’s Science Advisory Board dioxin review panel.

EWG’s letter to EPA found here: http://www.ewg.org/dioxin/analysis

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EWG is a nonprofit research organization based in Washington, DC that uses the power of information to protect human health and the environment. http://www.ewg.org