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After Long Delay, EPA Releases Dioxin Assessment

After decades of consideration, the Environmental Protection Agency has released a final assessment on the health impact of dioxins, for the first time setting a toxicological threshold for non-cancer risks posed by exposure to the chemicals.

The food industry had been concerned that EPA would set exposure recommendations below what some Americans are already exposed to via their diet, which could cause some people to radically change their eating habits. But the report released by EPA instead touted the reductions in dioxin exposure. According to the agency air emissions of dioxins have decreased 90 percent since the 1980s.

“Today’s findings show that generally, over a person’s lifetime, current exposure to dioxins does not pose a significant health risk,” said EPA on Friday. “Most Americans have low-level exposure to dioxins. Non-cancer effects of exposure to large amounts of dioxin include chloracne, developmental and reproductive effects, damage to the immune system, interference with hormones, skin rashes, skin discoloration, excessive body hair, and possibly mild liver damage.”

The agency said consumers should not be worried about exposure: “Most Americans have low-level exposure to dioxins. Most dioxin exposure occurs through the diet with small amounts of exposure coming from breathing air containing trace amounts of dioxins and from inadvertent ingestion of soil containing dioxins. While we all likely have some level of dioxin in our bodies, the levels are low and findings show that low-levels of exposure do not pose a significant health risk.”

Dioxins are released into the air during certain industrial processes, like cement production and are also naturally occurring. According to new government data, air releases of dioxin rose 10 percent between 2009 and 2010. Dioxins are ingested by food animals, via grazing and contaminated feed, and are bioaccumulated — a reality that has concerned regulators and public health authorities because dioxins are linked to reproductive and developmental problems, immune system damage and cancer.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 90 percent of human exposure to dioxins is via food, particularly meat, dairy, fish and shellfish. The food industry worries that the EPA reassessment would have recommended an exposure threshold that is lower than the level of exposure many Americans already face through their daily diet.

The EPA’s new assessment sets a reference oral dose — more information here: http://www.epa.gov/iris/subst/1024.htm

According to one advocacy groups, some Americans may be close to the reference dose.

“The key finding of EPA’s new report is that EPA has published a reference dose for dioxin and that the daily intake of dioxin in food is close to this level,” said Mike Schade, a spokesman for the Center for Health, Environment & Justice.  “It shows that the average background exposure of the American public to dioxin in food is very close to or above the EPA new reference dose.”

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