A New Look at Dioxin
Host: Rebecca Williams
Show date: 06/08/2010
There’s a class of chemicals called dioxins that've polluted rivers between Midland and Saginaw Bay. They cause cancer. The federal government’s made the polluter, Dow Chemical, promise to clean contaminated soil from the river bottoms as well as from yards and parks, but at the same time, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency never finished a report on just how toxic dioxins are. This makes some people mad, like Bob McKellar from Midland.
“I can't understand how the EPA and those people can set those standards when they don't have data generated sufficient enough to tell us which things we really need to worry about.”
On the flip side, other people think the government standards are too weak.
Well, after nineteen years, the EPA put out a final draft of its so-called dioxin reassessment.
We had Shawn Allee look at how it could affect Michigan:
The US Environmental Protection Agency admits the dioxin reassessment is overdue, but the end is near.
“Hopefully this will be the final word, for now, on the assessment of the toxicity of dioxin.”
Dr. Peter Preuss (prew-ss) heads up EPA’s National Center for Environmental Assessment.
He uses the word “hopefully” since the dioxin reassessment needs final peer review.
But the current draft shows the government’s more concerned about dioxin than ever.
Take cancer for example.
Back in 2003, EPA scientists stated dioxins could cause cancer at very low concentrations.
Dow Chemical objected, and so did some independent scientists.
Preuss says EPA considered objections but it is sticking to its guns … this draft reaffirms even small doses of dioxin cause cancer.
In Michigan, this could mean EPA asks Dow to remove even small traces of dioxin from contaminated soil.
“We have made clear that once this reassessment is complete, we will evaluate those soil clean up levels and see if they need to be changed or not.”
That could add tens of millions of dollars to Dow Chemical’s clean-up costs.
Scientists say the dioxin reassessment deals with more than just cancer risks, though.
“Each time they get an analysis of the toxicity, it turns out it’s more toxic.”
This is Peter DeFur (duh FURR), an environmental consultant who’s peer-reviewed older drafts.
“This version of the reassessment confirms that same trend. The non-cancer cancer affects are seen to be occurring at lower levels than previously. So, it's worse than we thought.”
Here’s why DeFur’s worried.
The state government already warns people to avoid eating certain fish from the polluted Tittabawassee and Saginaw rivers.
DeFur predicts the reassessment will push the state to issue even stronger warnings, especially for vulnerable people.
“For example, if a pregnant woman consumes a lot of fish with dioxin throughout her pregnancy, she may be putting the fetus at risk for developmental problems later in life, when the child begins to grow up. And this doesn’t have to be a long-term exposure, it may be a matter of a few months during the pregnancy.”
There’s a chance the EPA’s dioxin reassessment will not end up strengthening any dioxin clean-up or fish advisories, though.
After all, the EPA wants comments from people who could be affected by the latest science.
One EPA official says he wouldn’t be surprised if some of the loudest voices on both sides come from Michigan.
For The Environment Report, I’m Shawn Allee.
Dow Chemical emailed Shawn their comments, saying EPA ignored scientific objections. A scientific advisory board will be looking into that.
That’s the Environment Report. I’m Rebecca Williams