Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Exhaustive US Report on Dioxin Satisfies Few in Scientific Debate Industry Says Risk Exaggerated, Environmentalists Say Risk Ignored

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Exhaustive US Report on Dioxin Satisfies Few in Scientific Debate Industry Says Risk Exaggerated, Environmentalists Say Risk Ignored

Article excerpt

IN a new report on dioxin, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) treads carefully in attributing human health problems to this highly toxic substance.

The 2,000-page study released on Sept. 13 is completely satisfying to neither environmentalists nor the industries tied to the controversial chemical compounds often associated with the Vietnam herbicide Agent Orange and the evacuation of Times Beach, Mo., 10 years ago.

But the EPA's assessment, which involved more than 100 scientists over a three-year period, reaffirms "with greater confidence" earlier government findings that dioxin is a "probable human carcinogen."

In addition, according to EPA assistant administrator Lynn Goldman, there is "a stronger body of evidence" to suggest that dioxin also may result in developmental, reproductive, and immunity problems.

The EPA describes its report as "the most exhaustive scientific review of a single compound ever undertaken by the agency." It will not be complete for another year, however, by which time the EPA hopes to have gathered more information from government and private sources as well as conducted a scientific peer review.

Dioxins are a family of 75 chemical compounds resulting inadvertently from combustion, the manufacture of certain chemicals, the chlorine bleaching of pulp and paper, and other industrial processes.

Many US companies whose products have been linked to dioxin continue to be critical of EPA findings, but some are actively working to eliminate the controversial chemical from their businesses.

The day before the EPA report was issued, Louisiana-Pacific Corporation announced that it had eliminated dioxin discharges at two of its three pulp mills in the US by removing chlorine or chlorine compounds from its bleaching process. At present, European mills are ahead of their US counterparts in producing chlorine-free paper.

Early this year, the US-Canadian International Joint Commission called "exposure to persistent toxic substances ... the most significant problem facing the Great Lakes region," and it called upon both governments to end the use of chlorine in manufacturing.

While the total amount of dioxins produced each year in the United States is fairly small - 30 pounds by government estimates - the EPA describes it as "highly toxic" and therefore "a significant environmental pollutant."

According to Dr. Goldman, municipal and medical-waste combustion account for most known dioxin emissions. …

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