Although dioxins, even in small amounts, are dangerous to health, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) emphasized that, overall, dioxin exposure does not currently pose an important health risk. Dioxins and dioxin-like compounds are substances resulting from a range of industrial processes and the burning of household waste – they are seen as highly toxic compounds.
In a public communiqué, the EPA wrote:
“Dioxins are toxic chemicals that naturally exist in the environment and can be released into the environment through forest fires, backyard burning of trash, certain industrial activities, and residue from past commercial burning of waste. Today’s findings show that generally, over a person’s lifetime, current exposure to dioxins does not pose a significant health risk.”
A human-exposure limit of dioxin levels has been established for the first time by the EPA. Industry lobbyists, mainly chemical and food manufacturers, believe the EPA is not using proper science and will only scare people about what they are eating. Despite the current dioxin spotlight, it still seems unlikely that federal authorities will pose new regulations on dioxins in food.
The EPA claims that over the last twenty years it has strived to bring down dioxin emissions from all major industrial sources. According to regular readings taken by government and industry, dioxin air-emissions have dropped by 90% since 1987 in the USA. The EPA adds that the burning of household trash in people’s backyards is the largest current source of dioxin emissions.
The Agency informs that the vast majority of American citizens have low exposure to dioxins. Dioxin exposure, in large quantities, can lead to the following (non-cancer conditions):
- Chloracne – acne-like eruptions
- Reproductive effects
- Developmental effects
- Mild liver damage
- Skin discoloration
- Hormone interference
- Hirsutism – growth of too much body/facial hair
- Damage to the immune system
The EPA says the following steps are being taken to address dioxin:
- Funding research into the effects of dioxin exposure
- Assessing the health risks of dioxin exposure to humans
- Measuring levels of dioxins in the environment
- Measuring dioxin exposure in the foods we eat
- Measuring dioxin levels in our bodies
- Reducing dioxin exposure
According to a preliminary EPA study, the main source of dioxin exposure today for humans is food. We should not exceed 0.7 picogram of dioxin per kg of body weight per day – which is less than one-trillionth of one gram. Foods with a high animal-fat content tend to have greater concentrations of dioxins.
Many in the food industry say the limit put forward by the EPA is unrealistic. The National Chicken Council informs that the 0.7 picogram limit could be exceeded in many cases after just one single meal.
In response to the EPA report, the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) wrote that people should not avoid any particular food because of dioxins. The Agency stressed the importance of a balanced diet, as a much more important goal.
Opinions vary widely on what should be done about dioxins. Many experts not involved in the food or chemical industries say that dioxins are powerful toxins which have been associated with cancer risk – and that people should reduce their animal-fat intake in order to bring down their dioxin exposure.
Written by Christian Nordqvist