Congressman Ed Markey, D-MA — who serves as Ranking Member of the Natural Resources Committee and is a senior member of the Energy and Commerce Committee — is urging the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to finalize the long-delayed health assessment of dioxins.

Citing the recent government data that showed air releases of dioxin rose 10 percent between 2009 and 2010, and total disposal increased by 18 percent, Markey asked EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson to make the dioxin assessment a priority.

Dioxins, which are released in certain industrial manufacturing processes but are also naturally occurring, are absorbed by animals and can accumulate in the food chain. Accumulation in food products is of concern to 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 is particularly concerned about the EPA assessment, which they worry could cause panic or steer people away from certain foods because the average American diet might be over the safe dioxin tolerance set by EPA. In his letter to the agency, Markey notes that other industry groups, like the American Chemistry Council, which represents the chemical industry, are also pressuring the EPA to even further delay release of the reassessment with “unnecessary additional reviews.”
“The American public has been waiting for the completion of this dioxin study since 1985 and cannot afford any further delays,” writes Rep. Markey in the letter to the EPA. “I strongly urge you to reject industry’s call for further delays and meet your schedule of finalizing the non-cancer portion of the dioxin reanalysis by the end of this month.”

Markey blasted the agency for taking too long to reassess the group of chemicals.
“Despite worldwide agreement about the toxicity of these chemicals and their persistence in the environment, EPA has yet to release its findings on how dangerous these chemicals are to public health,” said Rep. Markey in a statement emailed to reporters. “A baby born on the day the EPA completed its first draft health assessment would be 27 years old today. I’d like to see the final EPA analysis before it turns 28.”

According to CDC, dioxins and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) have a similar toxicity.

“Human health effects from low environmental exposures are unclear,” says CDC on its resource page. “People who have been unintentionally exposed to large amounts of these chemicals have developed a skin condition called chloracne, liver problems, and elevated blood lipids (fats). Laboratory animal studies have shown various effects, including cancer and reproductive problems.”

For more information on dioxin exposure, see FDA’s resource guide here.