Report: Risk of Dioxin not as Great as Previously Thought

July 18, 2003
A recent report by the National Academy of Sciences is downplaying the risks of dioxin, labeled by environmental activists as one of the most dangerous chemicals in use.

An article authored by James M. Taylor in the August 2003, issue of Environment & Climate News, a monthly publication of The Heartland Institute, reports the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) has determined dioxin's risk is too small to merit new government regulations.

According to the Institute of Medicine, part of the NAS, dietary balance, rather than stronger regulations, should guide people in reducing their intake of dioxin. The NAS report culminated a decade-long dioxin assessment begun by the Environmental Protection Agency. Responsibility for the assessment was transferred to the NAS after other federal agencies questioned EPA's impartiality and commitment to sound scientific principles.

Dioxins, long-lasting compounds that accumulate in body fat, are an unwanted byproduct of some manufacturing processes, as well as waste incineration and forest fires. The compounds build up in the body fat of livestock that eat feed or grass that has been exposed to dioxins. Dioxins are then passed along to people who eat animal fat.

Environmental dioxin levels have declined by as much as 76 percent since the 1970s, according to NAS. Most experts expect environmental dioxin levels to continue to decline, as the compounds gradually slip out of the food chain.

"The health risks posed by the levels of dioxins in foods have yet to be ascertained, so the report does not recommend regulatory limits on dioxins or dioxin-like compounds in food or feed," said the report.

Robert Lawrence, who chaired the committee that wrote the NAS report, said researchers are recommending "simple, prudent steps to further reduce dioxin exposure while data are gathered that will clarify the risks."

Researchers suggested such strategies as serving low-fat milk in school lunch programs and reducing, when possible, the amount of saturated fat in school lunches. They also recommended reducing dioxin levels in animal feed.

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