Cancer-Causing Dioxin in the Food Chain--
Industry & Government Coverup

The Dioxin Deception

Tamara Straus, AlterNet April 3, 2001
The causes of cancer are contested. Certainly there is evidence that the
disease can be passed down from generation to generation. There is also, of
course, proof that smoking can cause lung cancer and a diet high in salt
and sugar can cause stomach cancer. But there is no way to predict with
certainty who will get cancer or why. And so the wives' tales proliferate:
deodorant causes breast cancer; stress causes brain cancer; repression
causes colon cancer.

However there is one general connection that has been proved but remains
buried. It is the connection between dioxin and cancer. Dioxin is formed
when chlorine-containing chemicals, like plastic or industrial waste, are
burned, or when pulp or paper are bleached. The chemical then becomes
airborne, settling on plants that are eaten by animals, which, in turn, are
eaten by humans. Humans retain dioxins in their fatty tissue through both
meat and dairy consumption. And once dioxin is lodged in the body there it

Scientists have known the dangers of dioxin for a long time. When the US
Environmental Protection Agency completed its first health assessment of
dioxin in 1985, it reported that more people will get more cancer from
dioxin than any other chemical on earth. The assessment was intended to
form the basis of all future EPA regulations of dioxin emissions.

But, according to a report released on April 3 by the Center for Health,
Environmental and Justice, the paper and chlorine industries pressured the
EPA to reconsider publishing its assessment -- and have succeeded in
burying, waylaying and buying off government officials ever since. CHEJ's
report, "Behind Closed Doors," is among the most damning studies ever
written on how the chemical industry has influenced policy makers and
concealed vital health information from the public.

Behind Closed Doors reveals that year after year the publication of the
EPA's report on dioxin has been stalled due to pressure from the chemical
industry. Tactics have included:

- funding alternative scientific panels, which downplay the health threats
of dioxin

- pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into the campaigns of President
Bush and former New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman (who now runs
the EPA)

- influencing the negotiations of the United Nations Treaty on Persistent
Organic Pollutants (POPS), which is intended to eliminate the proliferation
of dioxin and other pollutants

- suing the EPA on the grounds that its guidelines for classifying dioxin
as a "known human carcinogen" are false

- squelching community groups and anti-dioxin activists

- and attempting to prevent local governments, such as the California
counties of San Francisco and Marin and the cities of Oakland, Berkeley,
San Francisco and Palo Alto, from passing resolutions to phase out dioxin

"If you start telling people that every child born in this country has
dioxin in their body," said Gary Cohen of the Environmental Health Fund, a
partner of CHEJ, "if you show them the list of health effects and that
every mother is passing dioxin on to her child, if you say we are all being
exposed to hundreds of thousands of chemicals -- it's an explosive issue.
And the chemical industry, particularly the chlorine section of the
chemical industry, will be in trouble."

So you might say it is in the chemical industry's interests to keep
scientific studies of dioxin poisoning under wraps. Among the key findings
of "Behind Closed Doors" is the role the American Chemical Council and the
Chlorine Chemistry Council have played in preventing a final release of the
EPA's dioxin assessment.

Chiefly, the report shows that the ACC and CCC have manipulated the Science
Advisory Board of the EPA's dioxin committee through money. The CHEJ's
research on the November 2000 dioxin committee shows that a third of its
members received funding from 91 dioxin-generating companies, like Dow and

One panel member, John Graham, the director of the Harvard Center for Risk
Analysis, who has a long history of working for the chemical industry, told
National Public Radio last year that the chances of getting cancer from
dioxin and getting killed in a car crash were both 1 in 100, which put
dioxin "on par with common risks." However, the EPA's 2000 draft report on
dioxin health risks reports that the "chemical is 10 times more likely to
cause cancer than previously estimated," according to a May 18 New York
Times article.

Of course, the EPA's report has not been released, so the EPA scientist who
talked to the Times spoke on the condition of anonymity. But he also
mentioned that the EPA's data showed that "dioxin might alter [human]
development and that it might affect thyroid secretions." Other known
health risks of dioxin documented by the EPA and CHEJ include attention
deficit disorder, learning disabilities, weakened immune system, birth
defects and endometriosis, which often results in infertility.

Health activists had hoped that the EPA would publish its dioxin report
during the Clinton administration. As Cohen put it last fall, "if the
report is not released before November or if Gore does not win the
presidency, it will never see the light of day."

For that reason, "Behind Closed Doors" was released the same day Whitman
met with top EPA scientists and policy officials to talk about the future
of the dioxin reassessment. But given that, according to CHEJ, Whitman did
much to deregulate the chemical industry's environmental standards while
governor (reducing, for example, air and water pollution violation fines
from $40 million to $11 million in eight years), and that, according to
Newsweek, the American Chemistry Council raised over $350,000 for Bush's
campaign, further stalls are likely.

So Americans will remain in the dark. Still, there is evidence of a growing
movement against the chemical industry. On March 26, Bill Moyers' PBS
special "Trade Secrets" exposed how chemical companies hid damaging
information about vinyl chloride, one of the most potent sources of dioxin.

This unearthing of years of chemical industry documents by Moyers, as well
as the reports of CHEJ and other groups may well lead to a public outcry
and class action lawsuits. In which case, the chemical industry will find
itself embroiled in scandal similar to the one the tobacco industry faced
during the last decade.

For more information on the health risks of dioxin, go to the Center for
Health, Justice and the Environment (

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