DIOXIN HITS COMEBACK TRAIL
From The Cancer Chronicles #10
© Autumn 1991 by Ralph W. Moss, Ph.D.
On August 12 , the Chemical Manufacturers Association, "troubled that the public associates them with toxic-waste dumps, poisonous spills and carcinogens," announced that it was "cranking up a $10 million campaign to convince people that chemical plants are run by friendly, responsible people" (New York Times).
Three days later, Times readers awoke to what looks like just such a campaign, directed against the cancer prevention movement: government, industry and media joining up to reverse the ban on the chemical dioxin. In its lead story, with accompanying editorial, the Times gave full play to "top federal health authorities" backing away from "the position that the chemical compound dioxin is toxic enemy No. 1." Dioxin, famous as a contaminant of Agent Orange, is "now considered by some experts to be no more risky than spending a week sunbathing." Dioxin also triggered the evacuation of Times Beach, Missouri in 1982 when this chemical was found there. "New data indicate the move may have been unnecessary," the Times claims.
A scientist credited with getting dioxin banned back then, Dr. Vernon N. Houk, has changed his tune and now claims, "If it¹s a carcinogen, it¹s a very weak carcinogen and federal policy needs to reþect that." A Times editorial praised the "courage" of "reasonable" regulators attempting to downgrade dioxin.
In fact, over the years, numerous studies have found dioxin extremely toxic to all sorts of animals, including primates--not just guinea pigs, as the Times alleged. It induces cancer, birth defects and immune system damage at almost immeasurably small doses.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) now claims that "low level human exposure" is safe and proposes to increase allowable exposure 1,000-fold. They claim to have new evidence that dioxin shares a receptor site on human cells with other carcinogens. This supposedly reduces its harmfulness. But ironically, even if this receptor site theory were true, it would require more, not less, regulation. For the public's total exposure to many carcinogens goes well over EPA's alleged "threshold."
This revisionist attack hinges on a new interpretation of a dioxin accident that took place at a herbicide plant back in 1949. The administration claims a new analysis of this accident shows that, while high levels of dioxin exposure did cause cancer, low levels were safe. But plant ofÞcials repeatedly testiÞed under oath they had no idea who got high- and who got low-level doses.
These moves have not gone unopposed. Samuel Epstein, MD blasted what he called the "linguistic detoxiÞcation of dioxin hazards by highly politicized agencies," and the "uncritical media" that support them.
"What's being protected here [are] industries favored by the government," said Dr. Mary H. O'Brien, which"begins with the assumption that these industrial activities have to go on and adjusts the data to make the existing pollution practices acceptable." In a letter to the Times, Rep. Ted Weiss (D-NY) implied that this attack is part of a campaign to roll back environmental protection.
"Readers should know that the paper mill industry, which manufactures dioxin as an unwanted byproduct of chlorination, is engaged in a campaign to weaken state and Federal dioxin regulations and much of the misinformation being spread about the so-called safety of dioxin comes from industry." Understood is the fact that the Times itself is part of that very industry.
See other Cancer Chronicles articles on the New York Times and cancer.
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