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#479 - Nationwide Dioxin Campaign, 31-Jan-1996

New evidence of dioxin's ability to cause cancer in humans has come to
light[1] just as environmental justice activists across the U.S. are
planning a major campaign to attack dioxin at its sources. The campaign
is holding a 3-day strategy session in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, March 15-
17. (All citizen activists are welcome; to register, phone Jim Warren
in North Carolina: (919) 774-9566; THE LAST DAY TO REGISTER IS MARCH
5.) The dioxin campaign puts the grass-roots environmental community
squarely "in the face" of the biggest polluters in the nation, and it
creates a "line in the sand"--a challenge to the old conservative wing
of the environmental community, which to some extent has made its peace
with the dioxin polluters.[2]

"We know that we are up against huge corporate power, but tackling the
misuse of corporate power is what the 21st century is going to be
about," says Ellen Connett, one of the leaders of the new grass-roots
campaign, and editor of the indispensable weekly, WASTE NOT [phone:
(315) 379-9200].

The well-know grass-roots leader, Lois Gibbs of the Citizens
Clearinghouse for Hazardous Waste [phone (703) 237-2249], has just
published an excellent book on dioxin[3] --the best we've ever seen on
the subject --which describes the dioxin problem in the first half, and
then lays out various campaign techniques that citizens could use to
end the poisoning. Gibbs's books is technically sound, yet easily
understandable by non-experts. It describes dioxin, where it comes
from, and how it poisons people and wildlife. It tells the whole
complicated dioxin story, yet is very readable. Furthermore, it is the
best "organizing manual" for citizens we have ever seen. Gibbs's book
seems likely to become the "bible" for dioxin campaigners.

Gibbs sees the dioxin problem as a failure of self-government, a
failure of people to control corporations: "We can't shut down the
sources of dioxin without finding the courage to change the way
government works," she says. "We have to explore how people became
powerless as the corporations became powerful. We have to figure out
how to speak honestly and act collectively to rebuild our democracy."

The rebuilding of democracy is what separates the grass-roots
environmental movement from the old conservative "enviros." The old-
style enviros don't see democracy as an important issue--perhaps
because to do so implies a direct challenge to corporate influence over
our media, our elections, our courts, our schools, and our
legislatures. For example, the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) has
refused to endorse campaign finance reform to get the corrupting
influence of private money out of our elections. The grass-roots
movement, on the other hand, believes democracy is THE fundamental
environmental issue. "Without democracy there can be no justice, and
without justice there is no way to protect human health or the
environment," says Connie Tucker, of the Southern Organizing Committee
in Atlanta [(404) 755-2855], another important participant among many
in the Baton Rouge conference.

New Evidence of Dioxin's Toxicity to Humans

A new study published in December found a dose-dependent increase in
risk of cancer and heart disease among a group of 1189 workers at a
pesticide manufacturing plant in Hamburg, Germany who were exposed to
dioxins during the period 1952 to 1984.[1] The study group included
every worker employed for three months or longer at the plant from 1952
until it shut down in 1984. The workers were followed through the end
of 1992.

Exposure to dioxins was evaluated to see if dioxins were related to
particular causes of death. Deaths among the pesticide workers were
compared to deaths among a control group consisting of 2528 non-dioxin-
exposed workers at a gas supply company located in the same region of

The pesticide workers had produced phenoxy herbicides [examples: 2,4-D,
2,4,5-T, and silvex], chlorophenols, and other herbicides and
insecticides known to be contaminated with dioxins and furans. [Dioxins
and furans are a family of 210 unwanted byproducts (75 dioxins, and 135
furans) from certain chemical reactions in the production of phenoxy
herbicides. Dioxins may be produced by other chemical reactions as
well, including metal smelting, and the incineration of solid and
medical wastes. TCDD, or 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-P-dioxin, is the
most toxic of the dioxin family.]

The study found, among dioxin-exposed workers, an increase in all
deaths, an increase in cancer deaths, and an increase in deaths due to
ischemic heart disease, compared to same-aged individuals in the
control group. [Ischemic heart disease refers to a narrowing of the
arteries with consequent reduction of blood flow. If blood flow to the
heart muscle is reduced, a heart attack can result.] The disease-
related deaths increased with the dose of dioxin to which the workers
were exposed: greater dioxin exposure was related to higher death rates.

The study found that pesticide workers with the highest dioxin
exposures faced more than three times the risk of dying from cancer,
and 2.5 times the risk of dying from ischemic heart disease, compared
to workers of similar ages from a nearby gas plant.

The study examined the mortality [death] experience of workers during
the 40-year period from 1952 to 1992.

The study grouped the 1189 workers according to their degree of dioxin
exposure. Dioxin exposure was calculated by measuring dioxin in the
blood of 190 workers, or 16% of the exposed group. As the authors
themselves say, "The major strength of the present study is the
availability of a quantitative measure of exposure, which allows a
direct estimate of dose-response relations."

The study evaluated several factors that could have biased the results.
For example, they ruled out possible bias due to smoking because the
group of pesticide workers and the control group both contained about
the same proportion of smokers.

They evaluated and discussed possible effects due to exposures to
chemicals besides dioxins. They could not rule out possible bias from
exposure of the pesticide workers to cancer-causing chemicals besides

The authors conclude that the results of this study "support the
hypothesis of a dose-related effect of PCDD/F [dioxins and furans] on
cancer and ischemic heart disease mortality."

The finding of elevated cancer deaths among dioxin-exposed workers is
not a new finding. Three previous studies[4,5,6] have reported cancer
increases among dioxin-exposed workers.

However, this new study is particularly interesting because it is based
on actual measurements of dioxin levels in the blood of a sample of
workers. Previous studies have estimated dioxin exposures instead of
measuring them. The measurement of dioxin exposures allowed this study
to look for a dose-response relationship, and such a relationship was
found. Most people are familiar with the concept of dose-response;
think of the effects from drinking one, two, or three glasses of wine.
In general, greater dose leads to greater response. Finding greater
numbers of cancers associated with larger doses of dioxin provides
strong evidence of a cause-and-effect relationship between dioxin
exposure and cancer in humans.

The finding of increased heart disease among dioxin-exposed workers is
somewhat more surprising. Previous studies of this effect have been
inconclusive; some studies of dioxin-exposed populations have reported
increased heart disease, and other studies have reported no such
increases. However, these previous studies have not been able to
establish a dose-response relationship, as the present study has done.

In the present study, the dose-response relationship was clear. Because
dioxin exposures were measured, and not merely estimated, in this
study, these results should be given more weight than previous studies.

In studies of people exposed to dioxin after a chemical accident at a
Hoffman-LaRoche pesticide factory in Seveso, Italy in 1976, it was
noted that excessive numbers of people died of heart attacks. The
authors of the Seveso study attributed these deaths to "stress from the
accident." Now there is reason to ask whether these Seveso deaths were
possibly caused, not by stress, but by exposure to dioxins released
during the accident.

In sum, this is an important study that makes a unique contribution to
our understanding of the relationship of dioxins to human health.

The strategy conference in Baton Rouge will focus on 9 distinct targets
and strategies for getting dioxin out of the environment: (1) the paper
and pulp industry; (2) getting organochlorines out of manufacturing and
cleaning; (3) stopping all forms of incineration; (4) phasing out all
uses of PVC (polyvinyl chloride); (5) creating scientific swat teams to
help communities; (6) linking dioxin to health; (7) getting dioxin out
of our food; (8) developing tools to help poisoned communities; and (9)
communicating dioxin issues to the public and the media.

See you in Baton Rouge March 15.

--Peter Montague


[1] Dieter Flesch-Janys and others, "Exposure to Polychlorinated
Dioxins and Furans (PCDD/F) and Mortality in a Cohort of Workers from a
Herbicide-producing Plant in Hamburg, Federal Republic of Germany."
AMERICAN JOURNAL OF EPIDEMIOLOGY Vol. 142, No. 11 (December 1, 1995),
pgs. 1165-1175.

[2] See, for example, the recent report by the Environmental Defense
Fund (EDF) and its corporate partners, Johnson & Johnson, McDonald's,
the Prudential Insurance Company, and Time, Inc.: PAPER TASK FORCE
PAPER, available for $25.00 from EDF; telephone (212) 505-2100.

[3] Lois Gibbs, DYING FROM DIOXIN (Boston: South End Press, 1995);
$20.00 from South End Press: (617) 266-0629. Those wanting even more
technical detail about the consequences of dioxin production will need
to get Arnold Schecter, editor, DIOXINS AND HEALTH (New York: Plenum
Press, 1994).

[4] Marilyn Fingerhut, W.E. Halperin, D.A. Marlow, and others. "Cancer
Mortality in Workers Exposed to 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-P-dioxin."
NEW ENGLAND JOURNAL OF MEDICINE Vol. 199 (1991), pgs. 212-218.

[5] A. Zober and others. "Thirty-Four year mortality follow-up of BASF
employees exposed to 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-P-dioxin after the 1953
HEALTH Vol. 62 (1990), pgs. 139-157.

[6] A. Manz, J. Berger, J.H. Dwyer, and others. "Cancer mortality among
workers in a chemical plant contaminated with dioxin." THE LANCET Vol.
338 (1991), pgs. 959-964.

Descriptor terms: dioxin; conferences; campaigns; strategies;
corporations; lois gibbs; jim warren; nc warn; edf; soc; connie tucker;
germany; occupational safety and health; cancer; heart disease;
chlorophenols; pesticides; 2,4,5-t; 2,4-d; silvex; pcdfs; seveso,
italy; italy; hoffman-laroche; baton rouge, la; la;

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