The Environmental Protection Agency is holding public hearings today to review a proposed safe exposure limit for dioxin, a known carcinogen and endocrine disruptor produced as a common industrial byproduct. It’s all but impossible to avoid exposure to dioxin. Women exposed to it pass it on to fetuses in the womb, and both breast milk and formula have been shown to contain the stuff. Research done by the Environmental Working Group has shown that a nursing infant ingests an amount 77 times higher than what the EPA has proposed as safe exposure. Adults are exposed to 1,200 times more dioxin than the EPA suggests is safe, mostly through eating meat, dairy and shellfish (a good reason to go vegan).
Because dioxin is such a common pollutant — it’s a waste product of incineration, smelting, chlorine bleaching and pesticides manufacturing — its health effects are well documented. Fifties-era research linked high-level exposure to cancer and disease outbreaks. Newer studies have shown that ongoing low-level exposure can result in heart disease, diabetes, cancer, endometriosis, early menopause and reduced testosterone and thyroid hormones.
Indeed, as a testament to the toothlessness of our regulatory system, the EPA first flagged dioxin for review nearly 30 years ago. And even the threshold now finally being proposed — the one infants exceed almost 80-fold — is higher than environmental health advocates would like. But surely it’s better than nothing.