White House Announces New Progress Report On Addressing Dioxin


Date: November 23, 2004 -

A White House science official in a surprise move announced plans to release a report on dioxin in an apparent attempt to show administration progress on monitoring and controlling for the highly controversial pollutant. But the move has already drawn protests from environmentalists who say development of the report will likely further delay release of EPA’s dioxin risk review, which has been 13 years in the making.

Richard Canady of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy announced on Nov. 22, at the kick-off meeting of a review by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) of EPA’s risk study, that the administration report will describe an 80 percent reduction in industrial emissions of the pollutant since the 1980s, and stepped-up monitoring for the toxin in food supplies and human blood. Canady offered no specifics on when the report might be released.

But an environmentalist at the meeting dismisses the value of the new report in assessing public health risks from dioxin. "This [progress report] is largely a public relations exercise that mirrors the industry line about declining industrial emissions" even though EPA’s own findings show that current body burdens may pose public health risks that require more immediate action, the source says.

The federal government has been struggling for more than a decade to determine the public health risks from dioxin, with an EPA reassessment of the pollutant at the center of the controversy. Industry officials have raised concerns about the methodologies used by EPA in developing its risk review, which could prompt new controls for dioxin in air emissions, water discharges and cleanups at contaminated industrial sites. Congress directed the government in fiscal year 2003 to initiate an NAS review of the issue to settle the controversy, with this week’s meeting being the first step in that effort.

In addition, an interagency working group has been formed to help coordinate the debate within the administration over appropriate dioxin risk review procedures. Canady said the report will be conducted by this interagency group.

The environmentalist says EPA’s inability to release its dioxin risk review, which has undergone numerous scientific peer reviews, has prevented a host of state and local governments from taking action on contamination that continues to pose threats to their residents. "Local governments lack the resources to carry out this kind of risk assessment and are waiting for this to be completed before they can start cleanups. But now it looks like it will be at least another two years before it is finalized," the source says.

But Canady said there is a strong need for a progress report. "It’s easy to think there’s nothing happening. But [the Food and Drug Administration] FDA has become a tremendous data source" through stepped-up food monitoring and EPA has regulated a number of incinerators and taken other regulatory steps on other pollutants that co-control for dioxins, according to Canady.

An EPA source backs the working group report, noting that claims about 80 percent emission reduction is "right out of our report." The source says "it’s important to get out a message on dioxin with a single federal voice." But the official adds that other sources of dioxin such as backyard burning of plastics, forest fires and existing "reservoirs" of dioxin in the environment still need to be addressed through a variety of measures, which may include regulatory, voluntary and educational efforts.

The Agriculture Department and FDA have raised concerns for years through the interagency group about EPA’s scientific conclusions and the implications of the agency’s statements about the safety of breast-feeding and the consumption of dairy and meats, foods that remain sources of human dioxin exposure in part because of dioxin’s tendency to accumulate in the tissue of both humans and animals.

During the Nov. 22 meeting, members of the NAS panel requested information that would detail the concerns raised by the interagency group about EPA’s risk study, which is intended to be the focus of the academy review. But White House and EPA officials attending the meeting questioned whether such information existed and whether it could be made available.

In response, one environmentalist said such a refusal would represent a "lack of accountability, especially given the [concerns by the interagency group] is why there is an NAS study."

Representatives for the chlorine, agribusiness and utility sectors raised concerns during public comments about how EPA’s cancer and non-cancer risk conclusions are out of synch with the conclusions of international health agencies. In addition, they criticized EPA’s approach to measure the "toxic equivalent" of related dioxin compounds in environmental mixtures. EPA relies on a World Health Organization (WHO) method that EPA says is widely-used and has been peer-reviewed. An EPA official at the meeting said the agency has approached the WHO about updating its approach to toxic equivalents based on emerging data.

The NAS review is being chaired by David Eaton of the University of Washington, and is expected to be completed in one year. During that interval, EPA sources say, they will continue to update key aspects of the agency’s reassessment with new emissions and exposure data.

Source: Chemical Policy Report Weekly Report via InsideEPA.com

Date: November 23, 2004

Issue: Vol. 3, No. 47

© Inside Washington Publishers


Source: Chemical Policy Report Weekly Report via InsideEPA.com

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