A publication of Work On Waste USA, Inc., 82 Judson, Canton, NY 13617 315-379-9200 August 29, 1991

That benign little carcinogen called


From the Village Voice, 8-27-91, page 8, by James Ledbetter.

“...Once again, the chemical industry is trying to bamboozle federal regulators and the public, with the eager cooperation of the mainstream press. ‘The Dioxin Un-Scare -Where’s the Press?’ asked the headline of an op ed in the August 6 Wall Street Journal, penned by that master of capital propaganda, Reed Irvine, chair of Accuracy [sic] in Media. Irvine trotted out Dr. Vernon Houk, scientist at the Centers for Disease Control, who argues that the method used to gauge dioxin’s toxicity is flawed and that we really shouldn’t be all that concerned about this benign little carcinogen. (As if to punctuate the point, two days after his piece ran, a Virginia judge upheld that state’s decision -under liberal Governor Douglas Wilder - to adopt a new dioxin standard 92 times weaker than the EPA’s.) Irvine pities the Syntex Corporation, slated to spend up to $200 million to clean up Times Beach that it helped poison a few years back. But wait: Maybe if dioxin’s not so bad, we can save them some money! Irvine, whose outfit is generously backed by several large corporations, finished his ripsnort by criticizing the press for insufficiently trumpeting Houk’s claims: ‘The newspapers that influence those in Washington who could bring the costly Times Beach boondoggle to a screeching halt buried a small AP story deep on their inside pages.’ Nine days later, as if in lockstep with Irvine, the Times ran a front-page story, U.S. BACKING AWAY FROM SAYING DIOXIN IS A DEADLY PERIL. Reporter Keith Schneider informed cheerily that dioxin, ‘once thought to be much more hazardous than chain smoking, is now considered to be no more risky than spending a week sunbathing.’ Filling out these homespun comparisons was good old Houk, portrayed as a heroic onetime supporter of evacuating Times Beach, who now has the courage to say the feds overreacted. Nowhere in either the Irving piece or the Times article are any new findings mentioned. In fact, Houk made his judgement from a National Institute of Safety and Health study released in January, which has been so badly misinterpreted that its director wrote to The New England Journal of Medicine to say that any reading of the study that claims dioxin, even in low doses, doesn’t cause cancer in humans is ‘premature.’ (A critique of earlier studies purporting to show that dioxin is harmless is available from Greenpeace’s Washington office.) Nor does the Times mention that Houk’s record is far from pure. He has admitted in congressional testimony that he was responsible for not conducting a crucial CDC study on Agent Orange (active ingredient: dioxin) that eventually helped the Bush White House deny disability benefits to affected Vietnam vets. Secondly, after Georgia diluted its dioxin regulations at Houk’s recommendation, an EPA regional administrator - that is, a member of the Bush administration - called the weakened standards ‘scientifically unacceptable.’ And finally, Houk has admitted that, in drafting relaxed standards for dioxin, he copied virtually verbatim from reports given to him by the paper industry. This hardly impartial bunch wants to see regs relaxed because dioxin is a byproduct of the bleaching process, contaminating water around paper mills, which is costly to control. The closest the Times article got to these thorny matters was a mild note that Houk ‘now finds himself siding with some of his longtime adversaries’ and that the paper industry ‘came under criticism’ in the ‘80s for producing dioxin. Not exactly defending his story, Schneider told me that there ‘was no way we could get all the information into a single newspaper article,’ and that the Times would be getting to the NIOSH study some day. In case Irvine and his corporate cheerleaders somehow missed the point that the Times was on board, Friday’s editorial, ‘Downgrading Dioxin,’ praised EPA officials for ‘sensibly considering new evidence that could lead to relaxation of the current strict and costly regulatory standards.’ Maybe the Times has joined the polluters’ corner just to placate Irvine, who is quite a pest. But maybe its industrial-strength enthusiasm over eliminating ‘strict and costly’ standards can be traced to the fact that the New York Times Company has an 80 per cent interest in a Maine paper mill, and a 49 per cent interest in three Canadian paper mills. Indeed, on August 12, just four days before this editorial ran, two groups of Canadian Indians filed suit against Kimberly-Clark and the Times Company for $1.5 billion (Canadian), charging that one of the mills has polluted three rivers with dioxin and other toxins. This interest, need I point out, was not disclosed in the editorial.”



September 21-22, 1991, in Chapel Hill, N.C.


This historic Conference has assembled a unique gathering of dioxin researchers and others concerned with the dioxin issue, ranging from Dr. Barry Commoner to Admiral Elmo Zumwalt. At this crucial juncture in the dioxin battle being waged between science and politics, we urge our readers to participate in this Conference and to consider if your local group would want to be a Conference co-sponsor. Registration for this two-day conference is still available, and we urge you to register as soon as possible to avoid any disappointment. One thing is certain in the escalating dioxin battle: we need more citizens, journalists and decision-makers better informed on this issue so that the regulatory-industrial complex (Centers for Disease Control, EPA, White House, Chlorine Institute, and the Paper, Incinerator and Chemical industries) are not able to “bureaucratically” de-toxify dioxin. If anyone needs extra registration or sponsorship forms, please contact Waste Not.


George Claxton, National Chairman, Agent Orange Committee for Vietnam Veterans of America

Dr. Mikael Eriksson, Department of Oncology, University Hospital, Umea, Sweden.

Dr. Lennart Hardell, Epidemiologist, University Hospital, Umea, Sweden

Dr. Alastair Hay, Toxicology Department, Leeds University, England. Author of The Chemical Scythe

Dr. George Lucier, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, Research Triangle Park, NC

Dr. Peter Montague, Editor, Rachel’s Hazardous Waste News.

Dr. Mary O’Brien, Staff scientist, Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide (ELAW), Eugene, OR.

Marc Smolonsky, Investigator, House Committee on Human Resources and Inter-governmental Relations,

Washington, DC.

Elvira Spill, Author and journalist, Germany.

Ruth Stringer, Chemical Research, Greenpeace Int’l., Queen Mary & Westfield College, England.

NOTE: Dr. Sam Epstein has informed us that he cannot participate as a Conference panelist due to a court subpoena for his testimony as an expert at a trial in California.


ACE - Action for a Clean Environment, Alto, GA; Center for the Biology of Natural Systems, Queens College, NY; Citizens Clearinghouse for Hazardous Waste, VA; COPA - Citizens Opposed to PCB ASH, Bloomington, IN; Environmental Protection Council, Oakland County, MI; Everglades World Park Protection Society, West Palm Beach, FL; Evergreen Alliance, Detroit, MI; and the Northampton Citizens Against Pollution (N-CAP), NC.


The full list of sponsors, their addresses and a short summary of their goals, will be part of the Conference program hand-out. If your group is a Sponsor please send to Waste Not a brief summary of your group’s efforts as soon as possible.

WASTE NOT # 162 A publication of Work on Waste USA, published 48 times a year. Annual rates are: Groups & Non-Profits $50; Students & Seniors $35; Individual $40; Consultants & For-Profits $125; Canadian $US45; Overseas $65. Editors: Ellen & Paul Connett, 82 Judson Street, Canton, NY 13617. Tel: 315-379-9200. Fax: 315-379-0448.