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Dioxin Levels in Food – Where’s the Beef?

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Last year the USEPA completed and published the non-cancer portion of its health assessment for dioxin, one of the most toxic substances ever tested.This event passed without much fan-fare and little coverage by the media. With exception to CHEJ, even the environmental and health advocacy community paid it little attention. This is remarkable because the EPA’s health assessment on dioxin adds an important piece of new information that answers the question about the levels of dioxin in the American food supply. Until publishing this report, EPA had sidestepped the question of setting a reference dose for dioxin because they knew if they did this, they could no longer deny the obvious – the average daily intake of dioxin in food exceeds our best measure of what’s safe, EPA’s reference dose.



A reference dose is generally defined as “a level below which exposures are generally considered to be safe.” EPA’s Reference Dose for dioxin is 0.7 picograms TEQ per kilogram per day (pg/kg/d). According to EPA data, the adult daily intake of dioxin is 66 pg/day. Dividing this value by the average weight of an adult (70 kilograms), you get an average daily intake of dioxin of 0.94 TEQ pg/kg/d, 34% higher than the safe level. For children the numbers are even higher because of their smaller body size.

For example, a 2003 study by the National Academy of Sciences Committee on Dioxin in Food found that children ages 1 to 5 were exposed to 1.09 pg TEQ/kg/day and children ages 6-11 years old were exposed to 0.69 pg TEQ/kg/day. According to this analysis, dioxin exposure in children 1 to 5 years old exceeds EPA’s reference dose and that children 6 to 11 years old have dioxin exposure that is virtually identical to the reference dose. A recent research paper found that the average daily intake of dioxin in 207 pre-school aged children was 1.01 pg TEQ/kg/day, well above the EPA reference dose of 0.7 pg /kg day.

EPA has argued for some time that dioxin exposures are going down and in 2009 EPA published a paper that estimated the daily average intake of dioxin to be only 0.54 pg TEQ/kg/day. This estimate was based on an EPA estimate of dioxin levels in food. Unfortunately, there is no consensus of how much dioxin exists in the food we eat. We know that over 95% of our daily exposure results from ingestion of animal fat, primarily meat and dairy and that people who live near specific dioxin sources are exposed to even higher concentrations.

It is clear however that large numbers of the U.S. population, especially children, are being exposed to dioxin in food at levels that exceed EPA’s reference dose. We need to stop pretending that dioxin levels in food are not a problem and take this issue on. We need better data on dioxin levels in food and how it gets there, and for EPA, FDA, and USDA to engage in this issue. This is not likely however, until the public begins to demand it.


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A Coalition of Groups Asking Federal Government to Suspending Ohio’s Authority

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A coalition of environmental and community groups is asking the federal government to consider suspending Ohio’s authority to oversee deep injection of chemically-laced wastewater from oil and gas drilling.

The Center for Health, Environment & Justice and other groups planned to ask the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Monday to investigate and audit Ohio’s regulatory program of deep injection wells, operated by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

The call follows February indictments of a northeast Ohio businessman and his employee charging they illegally dumped oil and gas wastes. The two pleaded not guilty Friday.

A series of earthquakes around Youngstown had prompted an effective moratorium on new injection wells in early 2012. The state resumed issuing injection permits in November after imposing new testing, reporting and tracking requirements.

Read more.

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What You Might Have Missed Over (and since) the Holidays

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The past few months have been a real doozy for the vinyl chemical industry.

While you were probably indulging in a bit too much holiday egg nog or prancing underneath the mistletoe, the vinyl chemical industry was in hot water from New Jersey to Delaware to California.

“These individuals can never know how much and for how long they were exposed to vinyl chloride, a highly toxic gas known to cause fatal cancer and liver damage,” the chairman stated.

The biggest news was no doubt the train cars carrying vinyl chloride heading to OxyVinyls that derailed in Paulsboro, NJ. The accident was nothing short of a major environmental and occupational health disaster. One of the trains released 23,000 gallons of vinyl chloride, which formed a cloud of toxic gas that drifted into homes and businesses throughout the community.  More than 70 people were hospitalized after the vinyl chloride release. Air monitoring found very high levels of this chemical in the community. Hundreds of families were then forced to shelter in place and eventually evacuate their homes for days.   Since then, it’s been revealed that first responders were exposed to high levels of vinyl chloride, as it’s shown up in their bodies.  Thanks in part by the fine folks over at OxyVinyls (more on Oxy below).  You can read more about the train disaster in this op-ed I authored for the NJ Star Ledger (the largest paper in NJ!).

The same week that Oxy’s vinyl chloride was poisoning the air of Paulsboro, vinyl manufacturer Formosa Plastics was fined by the state of Delaware more than $70,000 for various air pollution violations at their plant in Delaware City.  It’s not the first time Formosa has been in hot water for violating the law.

In California the US Customs and Border Protection seized 35,000 toxic rubber (vinyl) duckies, which were in violation of the federal Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act for containing elevated levels of phthalates.  According to the feds:

“they arrived from China dressed as Santa, Snowman, Gingerbread man, Reindeer and Penguin, all 35,712, but their cute holiday flair did not deflect the scrutiny of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers and import specialists, at the Los Angeles/Long Beach seaport.”

And that was just in December!

What will 2013 bring for the vinyl industry?

The past few weeks have shown 2013 will not be much easier for the vinyl chemical industry.

Down in Georgia, a recycling company has reduced their stockpile of PVC, after more than 400 firefighters had to battle a fire at the plant.

“It’s been almost six months since Chattooga County, Ga., was hit by its largest fire in three decades, when more than 400 firefighters battled a blaze at a plastics recycling plant in Berryton, Ga.  One thing has changed since then: The North Georgia Textile Supply Co. has whittled down its stockpile of a potentially toxic type of plastic: polyvinyl chloride, or PVC. When PVC burns and firefighters spray water on it, a cloud of chlorine gas can result. Since the fire, North Georgia Textile Supply Co. has reduced the amount of PVC at the recycling facility in the old Berryton yarn mill three miles southwest of Summerville, Ga.”

EPA published the latest toxic release inventory (TRI) data, and their latest findings show that 3 of the top 5 dioxin polluters in the country were vinyl companies: OxyVinyls, Dow Chemical, and Westlakes Vinyl (with Oxy and Dow #1 and #2).

New scientific studies published continue to underscore what we know – vinyl chemicals are toxic to our health.  Studies have found dioxin delays the onset of puberty in boys, phthalates in the bodies of ants, and organotins (which are used to “stabilize” vinyl) linked to obesity, even in the grandchildren of those exposed.  Nick Kristof wrote a fantastic column about this new study in last week’s New York Times.

Finally, WFPL radio ran a heartbreaking and extremely powerful story about the families of vinyl workers who died from liver cancer, after being exposed to high levels of vinyl chloride.  This here says it all:

“But it’s too late for the workers who have already died from angiosarcoma or are suffering from liver disease. Janet Crecelius Johnson wonders why B.F. Goodrich couldn’t have erred on the side of caution. Her husband Revis was diagnosed with cancer a year to the day after he retired. He had worked night shifts for nearly 40 years, and was looking forward to spending more time with his family.

“Every time there’s a wedding, every time there’s a baby, you just think, ‘I wish he could be here.’””

Any other major stories I might have missed?

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Dioxin Exposures Effects Seen In Great Grandbabies

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“These results have implications for the human populations that are exposed to dioxin and are experiencing declines in fertility and increases in adult onset disease, with a potential to transmit them to later generations,” the authors concluded. New study shows frightening results from dioxin exposures.  Read more.

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Protect Your Grandchildren Today – Eat Fat Free – Less Dioxin

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A few years ago a study conducted by the NY State Department of health on former Love Canal residents identified two very important facts.  First the rate of birth defects in Love Canal children (those who were children living in the area during the crisis) is as high as it was for adults during exposures while living at Love Canal (56% of children were born with birth defects). The second finding was that there were statistically more girls than boys born to Love Canal children.  Generally it is believed that that change in normal ratio of male/female children is an indicator of exposures to hormone disrupting chemicals.

You may have already heard about these health outcomes in our newsletter or other communications.  It was the recent news about a study of dioxin and rats that reminded me of  the Love Canal studies.  At Love Canal there were 20,000 tons of chemicals buried in the center of the community and one of the chemicals identified in backyards was dioxin.

When I read the recent animal studies around dioxin and how exposures impacts children across generations, I was worried again.  Not only about my family, friends and former neighbors but for all the communities like Time Beach, Mo, Pensacola, FL, the ones people may have heard about but also communities not in the news in Texas, Georgia, Louisiana, Washington and every other community with a paper mill, wood treatment facility and pesticide sprayers.

Here is the scary news. “Pregnant rats exposed to an industrial pollutant passed on a variety of diseases to their unexposed great-grandkids.” Washington State University scientists found that third-generation offspring of pregnant rats exposed to dioxin had high rates of kidney and ovarian diseases as well as early onset of puberty. They also found changes in the great-grandsons’ sperm. The great-grandkids – the first generation not directly exposed to dioxin – inherited their health conditions through cellular changes controlling how their genes were turned on and off, the researchers reported. The dioxin doses used in the study were low for lab rats, but are higher than most people’s exposures from the environment. The study raises questions that won’t be easy to answer about people’s exposure to dioxins from food and industrial sources.

Dioxin builds up in the body and has up to a decade-long half-life in humans, so scientists say a woman who becomes pregnant even 20 years after exposure is at risk of transmitting the consequences of her exposure to later generations.  Most human studies of dioxins have focused on the direct exposure in adults and fetuses. A study of a 1976 industrial accident in Anshu Seveso,  Italy, documented health defects in the grandchildren of women that conceived as long as 25 years after exposure to dioxin. No human studies have investigated how a person’s dioxin exposure will affect their great grandkids.

So what does this mean for the millions of people directly exposed dioxin and almost everyone eating dioxin contaminated foods daily?  The average American is at 77% of the level below which exposures are considered to be safe.  That level is set for adults not babies and small children.  Children have different eating habits than adults. They tend to eat more dairy products that are high in dioxin. Dioxin is prevalent in foods that are high in saturated fat, primarily meat and dairy.

This information really reaffirms that everyone needs to eat foods with little animal fats and fat free dairy to protect our great, grandchildren.  It also should send an urgent message to EPA to get industries to clean up and stop producing dioxin pollution now.  We can’t wait nor can our grant grand babies.  Read more:

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Make Sure Dioxin’s Not for Dinner In Texas

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Texas Department of Health has issued a consumption advisory for crab and all species of fish from the San Jacinto River and warned women who are nursing, pregnant or who might be pregnant and children under the age of 12 not to consume any fish or blue crab from the area. The Health Department also advised adults and children to avoid the risk of exposure to dioxin through skin by not camping, fishing, swimming or picnicking near the San Jacinto River where the toxic waste ponds were located. According to the County, the health of both humans and the local ecology are threatened by releases of dioxin from the waste pond sites. Read more.

Photo: © Les Stone/Greenpeace

Faith-Based and Socially Responsible Investors Call on EPA to Strengthen PVC Air Safeguards

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Investors urge EPA to protect environmental justice communities

Photo: © Les Stone/Greenpeace

Washington, DC — Public pressure is mounting for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to strengthen toxic air pollution standards at polyvinyl chloride (PVC) chemical plants, especially for two that were singled out for weak standards in a new set of rules that the agency released addressing emissions from nationwide facilities.

The newest action comes from over a dozen faith-based and socially responsible investors in a letter sent to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson today.

Nearly twenty investors, with more than $9.8 billion assets under management, including some who own shares in PVC plants, are calling on the EPA to reconsider the rule. In a letter submitted to EPA today, they write:

“Setting PVC industry emission standards that are weaker than EPA’s initial proposed standards is counterproductive to efforts begun by investors, community groups, and local regulatory officials to reduce the toxic burden in environmental justice communities.”

The latest letter builds on the concerns raised in a July letter signed by 60 national and local environmental health and justice groups and submitted to the EPA. The investor letter also attempts to reinforce the concerns that Mossville Environmental Action Now (MEAN) presented at the July meeting of the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council (NEJAC), a federal advisory committee to EPA. All of these efforts reinforce the petition Earthjustice filed in June on behalf of MEAN, Louisiana Environmental Action Network, Air Alliance Houston, and Sierra Club in June asking EPA to grant reconsideration and issue a new, stronger air toxics rule without delay.

“As long term investors of persified portfolios we believe strong and consistent protections of public health and welfare are essential to long term economic growth, and in turn the prospects of companies in our portfolios,” said Susan Baker of Trillium Asset Management. “Communities in Mossville and Deer Park have the right to breathe clean air.”

According to the EPA, there are 17 plants in the United States that manufacture PVC resin, and they emit more than 1400 tons of hazardous air pollutants every year. These emissions include more than 270 tons per year of vinyl chloride, a known human carcinogen. They also include benzene, 1,3-butadiene, and dioxins, all of which also are known human carcinogens, as well as probable human carcinogens such as acetaldehyde and formaldehyde. Dioxins are widely considered some of the most toxic chemicals on the planet, targeted for phase-out by 170 nations around the world.

The EPA’s emission standards for the plants in Mossville and Deer Park are especially weak, allowing these plants to emit toxic pollutants at far greater concentrations than other PVC facilities.

While initially proposing to grant these communities at least the same protection as those elsewhere in the U.S., the EPA then decided without warning or any opportunity for public comment to create special categories for these two sources, even though the agency recognized that the plants are similar to and could use the same types of pollution control technologies that are generally available and in use by other PVC facilities.

“We have been shouldering the burden of breathing this poisoned air for much too long, leaving us with unparalleled levels of disease and illness,” said Dorothy Felix of Mossville Environmental Action Now. “Advocates for clean air from all sectors will continue to call on EPA to strengthen these standards because it is clear that our communities were unfairly singled out.”

“Exposing communities to chemicals that cause sickness and cancer is not the way to keep our economy strong,” said Sister Judy Byron of the Northwest Coalition for Responsible Investment. “These facilities have more than enough money to install protections that would limit the amount of poison people breathe.”

“Our community is continually exposed to cancer-causing pollution from the local PVC plant which spews its chemicals into our neighborhoods, schools and churches,” said Matthew Tejada of Air Alliance Houston. “For an agency committed to environmental justice to set weaker standards for PVC plants in communities that need protection the most is simply unacceptable.”

Here is a map showing the locations of PVC plants nationwide.

Here is emissions data information for all 17 facilities.

Here is the investor letter to EPA (submitted today).

Here is the 60-group letter to EPA (July 17, 2012).

Here is the petition for reconsideration (June 18, 2012) filed by Earthjustice on behalf of MEAN, Louisiana Environmental Action Network, Air Alliance Houston, and Sierra Club.

For more information, contact:

Raviya Ismail, Earthjustice, (202) 745-5221; rismail@earthjustice.org

Mike Schade, Center for Health, Environment & Justice, (212) 964-3680; mike@chej.org

Susan Baker, Trillium Asset Management, (617) 532-6681; SBaker@trilliuminvest.com

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10,000 NJ Citizens Ask Christie For Superfund Designation

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“For 25 years, DEP has been a total failure. The remediation so far has only gotten worse . . . if the governor cared about the public health and safety, he would nominate the site for Superfund so it would get the proper scrutiny and cleanup it deserves,” said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, who joined the residents at a press conference. Read more . . .

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Cancer-Free Product Labeling – What Do You Think?

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It’s no secret that market campaigns have been very effective in changing corporate behavior when in comes to using toxic chemicals. Some of the world’s largest retailers, corporations and major institutional purchasers like schools have changed their purchasing and chemicals policy to avoid harmful chemicals, like PVC, phthalates, dioxin and bisphenol A (BPA). Consumers have helped move Wal-Mart, Target and K-Mart away from products and packaging with PVC the poison plastic.

The idea is to use consumer purchasing power to change corporate behavior to protection public health in lieu of traditional government regulations. Last week, a Florida Democrat took this philosophy to a new dimension when he introduced federal legislation that would require companies to label their products “cancer- free” if they do not contain any known or suspected carcinogens.

Rep. Ted Deutch described this legislation as a common sense measure that would provide clarity for consumers. “We all know that using sunscreen, quitting smoking and steering clear of asbestos can reduce our risk to cancer,” Deutch said when he introduced the bill, “but when it comes to limiting exposure to carcinogens that may be found in everyday food and products, consumers are largely kept in the dark.”

The Cancer Labeling Act of 2012 will enable consumers to reduce their exposure to carcinogens by allowing manufacturers to affix a Cancer-Free label to products that do not contain known or probable carcinogens through a voluntary process that does not require public disclosure of trade secrets. The issued label would state that the product “does not contain known or likely carcinogens that increase your risk of cancer.”

Companies would apply to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) seeking approval to label a product under the jurisdiction of the agency. The application must include a list all substances in the product; a statement that the product does not contain any known or suspected carcinogens; and a statement that the product does not contain any substances that display carcinogenicity upon degradation, upon interaction with other substances contained in the product or exposed to the product during storage or transportation, or during intended use. Use of the label would be voluntary and the process would not require “disclosure of trade secrets.”

Deutch said the bill will allow consumers to make informed choices about the products they purchase. “Just as consumers who refused to buy baby products laden with BPA nearly wiped this chemical off the shelves,” Deutch said, “the Cancer Free Label Act will harness market forces to drive change and ultimately reduce Americans’ everyday exposure to known carcinogens.” If only it were that easy. What do you think? Is this a good idea or not?

Photo: http://www.healthypeople.gov/2020/topicsobjectives2020/overview.aspx?topicid=8

Scientists find vinyl plastic chemicals linked to diabetes

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Photo: http://www.healthypeople.gov/2020/topicsobjectives2020/overview.aspx?topicid=8

Two new peer-reviewed studies published over the past few months are calling attention to the potential link between exposure to phthalates and diabetes, a disease that affects 25.8 million Americans or 8.3% of the US population.  Over 90% of all phthalates are used to soften vinyl, such as vinyl school supplies and flooring.

The most recent study, led by researchers at Harvard, found phthalates linked to higher rates of diabetes in women. This comes at a time when the prevalence of diagnosed diabetes doubled from 1980 to 2010 in women.

They found that the diabetes rate was double for women with the highest levels of phthalates in their bodies, even after accounting for sociodemographic, behavioral, and dietary factors.  Phthalates were also linked to higher blood glucose levels and insulin resistance, two common precursors of type 2 diabetes.    In a story published by Environmental Health News, Richard Stahlhut, an environmental health researcher at the University of Rochester Medical Center who co-authored the study, noted:

“These findings are important clues, but it’s only a first step…It’s extremely likely that phthalates and other chemical contaminants will turn out to be a big part of the obesity and diabetes epidemic, but at this point we really don’t know how these chemicals are interacting with each other, or with the human body.”

The story notes that African Americans have a 19 percent chance of developing diabetes – a rate 77 percent higher than that of whites –  and Hispanics have a 66 percent higher rate than whites.  The story also notes that, “Poor women had up to 78 percent higher levels of BBP – the phthalate in vinyl flooring that was associated with a double rate of diabetes –  than women living above poverty level.”

Another study published in April by the American Diabetes Association found that people with higher phthalates in their bodies had about twice the risk of diabetes as those with lower levels.  Another study published last year also found a link between phthalate exposure and diabetes.

Dioxin and Diabetes

Phthalates aren’t the only vinyl chemicals that may be associated with diabetes.

The production and disposal of vinyl plastic, like the roofing and flooring in our children’s schools, is a major source of dioxin. A number of studies published over the years have linked dioxin exposure to diabetes.

For instance, author and scientist Pete Myers published a synopsis of a study a few years ago and stated that,

A large new epidemiological study in Japan finds that even at background levels of exposure, people with higher levels of dioxin and dioxin-like PCBs are a significantly greater risk to metabolic syndrome, which includes high blood pressure and Type 2 diabetes… Using a method to assess total exposure to this family of chemicals, they found that the people most exposed were over five times more likely to suffer from the health condition.  Looking at some of the chemicals one-at-a-time, they found that some, by themselves, had an even stronger relationship, as high as 8 to 9 times more likely.”

This is of great cause for concern given how widespread this disease is.  Diabetes is a major cause of heart disease and stroke, and is the seventh leading cause of death in the U.S.  It is also the leading cause of kidney failure, nontraumatic lower- limb amputations, and new cases of blindness among adults in the United States.

Over time, I expect the evidence will only continue to mount linking dioxin and phthalates to these and numerous other health problems.

The question is: how much more do we need to know before we act?