The EPA Follows Through on Dioxin

February 29, 2012 | 6:04 pm
Francesca Grifo
Former contributor

February brought two significant pieces of good news at the EPA. The agency released its final scientific integrity policy, which was much improved over the draft it put out for public comment. And the EPA finally released a scientific assessment of dioxin, an achievement 27 years in the making.

Photo of Lisa Jackson

This month, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson made good on her pledge to release a final, non-cancer scientific assessment of the health consequences of dioxin exposure. Photo: EPA

On January 25, I wrote to EPA Administrator Jackson asking her to release the non-cancer portion of the dioxin assessment by the end of January as she had promised in August 2011. Representatives of many other organizations made similar pleas (the Center for Health, Environment, and Justice kept a pretty good list).

EPA scientists completed their first draft of the assessment in 1985, an assessment that has been challenged by industry ever since. And on February 17, despite pressure from industry for even more delays, the EPA made good on its pledge, just a couple of weeks late.

And after nearly three decades, that didn’t feel like too big of a deal.

The EPA found that at current exposure levels, dioxins do not pose significant health risks (other than cancer). In addition to cancer, dioxins can harm human reproductive, immune, and hormonal systems and cause a severe skin disease called chloracne. EPA has said it will complete the dioxin cancer assessment “as expeditiously as possible.”

The non-cancer assessment enables the EPA to establish cleanup levels at toxic waste sites and set specific limits on industrial releases of dioxin to ensure that exposure levels remain low. EPA says that air emissions of dioxins have decreased by ninety percent since 1987 because of efforts by governments and industry.