Health Risks from Dioxins: Evaluation of the EPA Reassessment (July 2006)Report in Brief
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is responsible for assessing health risks from dioxin and related compounds, which are chemicals that are unintentionally released into the environment from many industrial processes. Public concern over dioxin began when it was found in Agent Orange, an herbicide widely used during the Vietnam War. Dioxin and related compounds persist in the environment and build up in the food chain. People are exposed primarily when they eat beef, pork, fish, and dairy products, although occupational or accidental exposure are typically much higher. Efforts to reduce dioxin and related compounds in the environment in recent years have resulted in an almost 90% decrease in emissions. This report evaluates EPA's latest draft "Reassessment" of the health risks from dioxin and related compounds. The report finds that EPA comprehensively reviewed the available scientific literature, but it did not adequately quantify the uncertainties associated with the risks, nor did it adequately justify the assumptions used to estimate them. Using different assumptions may result in a lower estimated cancer risk for humans exposed to low doses of dioxin and related compounds. The report also encourages EPA to further address health risks other than cancer by establishing a "reference dose" below which it anticipates no adverse effects--information valuable for establishing risks faced by populations, including workers, who may be exposed to more than the reference dose. This study was sponsored by EPA, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.