GOOD

Why the U.S. Government Won't Protect Us From Toxic Chemicals In Our Food Supply

Three decades later, Americans are still waiting for the EPA to fulfill its promise on examining dioxins in our food supply.


In 1985, “We are the World” won song of the year, The Goonies and Back to the Future lit up the silver screen, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced it would assess the health risks of dioxins. “We are the World” hasn’t hit the airwaves in years, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a child today who is familiar with beloved 1980s flicks. Yet 27 years later, Americans are still waiting for the EPA to fulfill its promise on examining dioxins.

The federal agency has missed [PDF] self-imposed deadline after deadline to release its study of dioxins, toxic chemicals that have been linked to cancer and other health problems. The agency seemed like it was going to come through this year, pinky-swearing that officials would release the long-awaited study by the end of January. Environmentalists, scientists, policy makers, parents, war veterans, and concerned citizens were hopeful that this would finally be the year for some clear, safe guidelines on dioxins.


It’s now February 7th, and there’s still no dioxin assessment. The EPA claims it will release its study “as expeditiously as possible." Folks are beginning to wonder whether we’ll ever see it in this lifetime.

A federal agency dragging its heels is nothing new, but the stakes in this case are especially high. As famed nutritionist Marion Nestle recently summarized, dioxins are quite literally some of the most toxic chemicals on earth. Adequate regulations to protect consumers from their dangers can’t be put in place until the EPA completes its assessment. “EPA must issue a clear scientific report that dioxin is a highly toxic chemical so that state and federal regulators can use that to set health-protective limits on dioxin in our food, water, and environment,” says Jennifer Sass, a senior scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Current dioxin regulations are based on old and outdated science,” says Mike Schade, a campaign coordinator at the Center for Health and Environmental Justice. “Once EPA’s health report is finalized, agencies can develop new regulations that are responsive to dioxin’s toxicity.”

Meanwhile, the evidence highlighting the chemicals’ impacts continues to pile up. Studies link them to health maladies like endometriosis, fertility problems, birth defects, learning disabilities, immune system deficiencies, and diabetes, just to name a few. The World Health Organization (WHO) considers dioxins to be a human carcinogen. The chemicals served as a toxic contaminant in Agent Orange, a substance used during the Vietnam War as part of the U.S. military’s herbicidal warfare program.

The really scary part is that dioxins are also ubiquitous, particularly in the food supply. The noxious chemicals are an unintended byproduct of industrial processes that burn chlorine, especially chemical factories and garbage and medical waste incinerators. Dioxins get spewed into the air, where they eventually settle into soil, water, and plants. Animals ingest dioxins as they graze, and the chemicals build up in the creatures’ fatty tissues.

That's bad news for animals—and for the people that eat them. People regularly consume a helping of dioxins whenever they eat eggs, fish, meat, and dairy products. According to the EPA, a whopping 96 percent of human exposure to dioxins occurs through the food supply. Studies suggest that virtually every single American contains measurable levels of dioxins the body—including babies, who are oftentimes born pre-polluted.

Given the fact that dioxins are about as common as salt on the American dinner table, you’d think the EPA—whose sole purpose is to protect public health and the environment—would prioritize studying dioxins’ safe limits. Why the years of delay? As Sass explains, “the delay has been political, not scientific.” The EPA faces major pressure from the chemical and food industries not to release its dioxin study—not now, and, if lobbyists get their way, not ever.

Dow Chemical and the American Chemistry Council (ACC), a chemical and plastics industry group, are leading the charge against the EPA’s dioxin study. In December, the ACC requested [PDF] that the EPA delay the release of its long-awaited study.

Major food producers are also pressuring the EPA to turn a blind eye to dioxins, citing concerns that consumers will unnecessarily fear their food. The Food Industry Dioxin Working Group [PDF]—which is made up of industry groups like the International Dairy Foods Association, American Frozen Food Institute, and the National Chicken Council—recently wrote to the White House, urging officials to block the EPA’s study. “Since the agency contends the primary route of human exposure to dioxin is through food, this could not only mislead and frighten consumers about the safety of their diets, but could have a significant negative economic impact on all U.S. food producers,” the group wrote.

“Dow and the chemical industry are following the tobacco industry's strategies to keep information from the public and delay release of the report,” says Schade. “In recent months, the chemical industry and Big Ag have been working behind closed doors to hide and distort the truth about the dangers of dioxin. EPA shouldn’t cave in to chemical industry dollars and interests over public health.”

The EPA’s duty is to protect consumers and the environment, not pander to industry interests. Policy makers can’t adequately regulate dioxins without the EPA’s assessment. We’ve already waited 27 years. Let's not make it 28.

Photo via (cc) Flickr user baltimoredave.

Articles
Julian Meehan

Young leaders from around the world are gathering at the United Nations Headquarters in New York Saturday to address arguably the most urgent issue of our time. The Youth Climate Summit comes on the heels of an international strike spearheaded by Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old climate activist from Sweden, who arrived in New York via emissions-free sailboat earlier this month.

Translated from Swedish, "berg" means "mountain," so it may feel fated that a young woman with Viking blood in her veins and summit in her name would be at the helm. But let's go out on a limb and presume Thunberg, in keeping with most activists, would chafe at the notion of pre-ordained "destiny," and rightly so. Destiny is passive — it happens to you. It's also egomaniacal. Change, on the other hand, is active; you have to fight. And it is humble. "We need to get angry and understand what is at stake," Thunberg declared. "And then we need to transform that anger into action."

This new generation of activists' most pernicious enemy is denial. The people in charge — complacent politicians and corporation heads who grossly benefit from maintaining the status quo — are buffered from real-life consequences of climate change. But millions of people don't share that privilege. For them, climate change isn't an abstract concept, but a daily state of emergency, whether it comes in the form of "prolonged drought in sub-Saharan Africa…devastating tropical storms sweeping across Southeast Asia, the Caribbean and the Pacific…[or] heatwaves and wildfires," as Amnesty International reportsare all too real problems people are facing on a regular basis.

RELATED: Greta Thunberg urges people to turn to nature to combat climate change

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet

Millions of people in over 150 countries across the globe marched for lawmakers and corporations to take action to help stop climate change on Friday, September 20.

The Climate Strikes were organized by children around the world as an extension of the of the "Fridays for Future" campaign. Students have been walking out of classrooms on Fridays to speak out about political inaction surrounding the climate crisis.

"We need to act right now to stop burning fossil fuels and ensure a rapid energy revolution with equity, reparations and climate justice at its heart," organizers say.

There's no doubt the visual images from the marches send a powerful message to those on the ground but especially those watching from around the world. GOOD's own Gabriel Reilich was on the scene for the largest of the Climate Strikes. Here are 18 of the best signs from the Climate Strike march in New York City.

Keep Reading Show less

September 20th marks the beginning of a pivotal push for the future of our planet. The Global Climate Strike will set the stage for the United Nations Climate Action Summit, where more than 60 nations are expected to build upon their commitment to 2015's Paris Agreement for combating climate change.

Millions of people are expected to take part in an estimated 4,000 events across 130 countries.

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet
via Apple

When the iPhone 11 debuted on September 10, it was met with less enthusiasm than the usual iPhone release. A lot of techies are holding off purchasing the latest gadget until Apple releases a phone with 5G technology.

Major US phone carriers have yet to build out the infrastructure necessary to provide a consistent 5G experience, so Apple didn't feel it necessary to integrate the technology into its latest iPhone.

A dramatic new feature on the iPhone 11 Pro is its three camera lenses. The three lenses give users the the original wide, plus ultrawide and telephoto options.

Keep Reading Show less
Health
via I love butter / Flickr

We often dismiss our dreams as nonsensical dispatches from the mind while we're deep asleep. But recent research proves that our dreams can definitely affect our waking lives.

People often dream about their significant others and studies show it actually affects how we behave towads them the next day.

"A lot of people don't pay attention to their dreams and are unaware of the impact they have on their state of mind," said Dylan Selterman, psychology lecturer at the University of Maryland, says according to The Huffington Post. "Now we have evidence that there is this association."

Keep Reading Show less
Health