Cleaning Up Dioxin
The Environment Report, Shawn Allee

January 5, 2010

One thing we hear over and over from the Obama Administration is that when it comes to the environment, science should set the agenda. Right now, though, the chemical industry is accusing the administration of abandoning that idea. Shawn Allee reports it has to do with the science behind a potent toxin:

President George W. Bush took it on the chin when it came to the environment. One accusation is that he ignored science that suggested we should get tougher on green house gas emissions.

President Obamaís Administrator at the US Environmental Protection Agency is Lisa Jackson. She said things would be different.

ďOn my first day, I sent a memo to every EPA employee stating that our path would be guided by the best science and by the rule of law, and that every action we took would be subject to unparalleled transparency.Ē

It hasnít taken long for the chemical industry to say Obamaís Administration is back-tracking.

ďThereís been this notion to get things done, and it get it done fast.Ē

Thatís David Fischer, an attorney for the American Chemistry Council. Fischerís concerned about new standards on dioxins.

Dioxins are by-products from producing chemicals. They also get into the environment from burning trash and wood.

The government says dioxin causes cancer and reproductive and developmental diseases.

Itís known this for decades, but itís been finishing a report to show exactly how toxic dioxins are. Itís been writing this dioxin reassessment for 18 years, and it was supposed to put out a draft last week.

But it didnít do that, and it hasnít said when it will.

That didnít stop the EPA from proposing a new rule about how much dioxin should be allowed in the soil in peoplesí yards.

Fischer says that rule should wait.

ďIf theyíre going to base goals based on the best available science, and they have, in fact, stated they plan to, itís hard to imagine how you can do that before the reassessmentís finished because that does after all represent or should represent the best available science.Ē

The chemical industryís concerned because dozens of sites across the country are contaminated with dioxins. And the rule would lower the amount of dioxin allowed in residential soil. It would go from 1000 parts per trillion to 72 parts per trillion Ė thatís a drop of more than 90%.

Fischer says that could cost companies millions of dollars in extra clean-up costs.

ďAgain, that begs the question, Why?Ē

One accusation is that the Obama administration wanted to finalize dioxin soil regulations in time to coincide with controversial, on-going dioxin clean-ups, such as one in central Michigan.

The EPA didnít answer this question directly and wouldnít provide an interview in time for this report. But it did say itís got sound science to justify the proposed dioxin soil rule.

You might ask why this matters. Well, just look at central Michigan, where thereís a large, on-going dioxin cleanup.

Linda Dykema works with Michiganís Department of Community Health. She creates state standards on how much dioxin should be allowed in water, fish, and soil. To protect people in Michigan, she needs help from the EPA.

ďWe rely a great deal on federal agencies to provide us with some hazard assessment for chemicals. The ability of the state to public health staff to do those kinds of assessments is pretty limited. They can do what needs to be done and what we canít do here at the state.Ē

And a ruling on dioxin levels in soil should help Dykema. But this move by the EPA might cause more problems than it solves. For years, the chemical industryís argued that the science behind dioxin isnít complete.

This proposed soil rule gives the chemical industry another chance to say, Ďhere we go again.í And the justification it needs to keep fighting a rule the EPA insists protects peopleís health.

For The Environment Report, Iím Shawn Allee.

Click on this link for audio version of this report:


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