PO Box 88 ~ Glendale Springs, North Carolina 28629 ~ Phone (336) 982-2691 ~ Fax (336) 982-2954 ~ Email:


Nationwide Day of Action on Dioxin
June 9, 2000   

Denise Lee (704) 826-8116
Catherine Mitchell (704) 545-4817


Dioxin In Our Food: A Public Health Emergency
178 Groups Call on Clinton-Gore Administration to Adopt a Dioxin-Free Diet for Polluters.

CHARLOTTE, NC - This year, a minimum of 4,000 people in the United States will get cancer from dioxin, at least ten new cases every day, according to a new USEPA report. Dioxin will also cause an unknown number of children to be born with birth defects, suppressed immune systems and learning disabilities. Adults will develop diabetes, endometriosis and heart disease because of dioxin exposure.

"Americans are getting sick from dioxin in fish, meat, eggs and dairy products. Even breast milk is being contaminated by this dangerous chemical," said Janet Zeller, director of the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League. "This is a food poisoning crisis - a public health emergency - that demands action from the Administration."

The new EPA report, leaked last month to the Washington Post, is based on more than 5,000 scientific studies on dioxin, an unintended by-product that is created when chlorine and chlorine-containing chemicals are manufactured and when chlorine-containing materials are burned. Beginning in the 1930s with the growth of the industries that make and use chlorine, dioxin levels in the environment rose sharply until the 1970s. According to EPA, the largest sources of dioxin releases to air are the burning of municipal waste, medical waste and hazardous waste in incinerators and cement kilns.

Since the 1970s, dioxin levels in the environment have declined. According to the new EPA report, improvements in combustion and emission controls on incinerators, the closing of a number of incineration facilities, elimination of most open burning, phase out of leaded gas, and bans on PCBs, the herbicide 2,4,5-T, hexachlorophene and restrictions on uses of pentachlorophenol led to this decline.

EPA's report fails to mention a dominant factor in the decline of dioxin levels: community activism.  For example, the popular opposition to incineration, the largest source of dioxin, has blocked the building of at least 191 incinerators and led to the closing of 59 operating incinerators. Before the EPA banned 2,4,5-T, many communities had won local ordinances prohibiting its use. Community activism has convinced many pulp and paper mills to adopt dioxin-eliminating measures. Most recently, groups have been successful in getting local and state ordinances passed which will prevent industry from creating dioxin in the future.

"But dioxin levels are still too high for our food to be safe."  explained Lois Gibbs, of the Virginia based Center for Health, Environment and Justice. "EPA's best estimate of current intake of total dioxin-like compounds (which includes dioxins, furans and PCBs), is 100 times the "safe" level for cancer risk. Many people may be getting 3 times that much because of normal variations in diet and behavior. EPA says a diet which substitutes meat sources that are "low" in dioxin (beef, pork, poultry) with sources that are high in dioxin (freshwater fish) could result in exposures elevated over three times the mean."

"EPA Administrator Carol Browner and other government officials are recommending that we solve the dioxin problem by eating more fruits and vegetables," added Janet Zeller. "Now, eating more fruits and vegetables is good advice. But you can't eat your way out of the dioxin problem. Instead of counseling individual Americans to go on a dioxin-free diet, the Clinton Administration should be putting dioxin-polluting industries on a strict diet aimed at getting dioxin out of our air and water. If we start the dioxin-free diet for polluters now, in time, our families will be safe from dioxin food poisoning."

Zeller points out that more bans and phase outs of dioxin-producing practices and products are needed. "Here in North Carolina, paper mills must phase out their use of chlorine and chlorine dioxide We need to move away from using chlorine to make plastic and bleach paper. We need to
manage our waste without incineration. It isn't necessary. There are safer ways of dealing with it. Our government needs to adopt a policy of zero dioxin emissions."

More information on the EPA's dioxin report and the dioxin-free diet for polluters is available on line at or or by calling Denise Lee at (704) 826-8116.

Photos from this Charlotte press briefing