NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Dioxin Levels Decrease but Health Effects Remain Unclear

June 23, 2003

Dioxin is a family of chemical compounds that has gained extensive attention from policy makers, scientists and government officials because of its reputation for possible long-term health and environmental effects.

All trend data gathered on dioxin shows that emissions, environmental and human body levels are declining steadily. However, despite potential side effects, it would be impossible to eliminate dioxin entirely from the environment:

  • Dioxin is a trace byproduct of many natural and industrial processes and is produced in forest fires, domestic stoves and fireplaces, and backyard trash fires.
  • More than 95 percent of human exposure to dioxin is through food: the meat and dairy products that we eat contain dioxin because livestock eat plants and grains that get dioxin from the air.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) tracks dioxin emissions from 32 source categories and has documented a decline in emissions:

  • Dioxin emissions decreased 77 percent between 1987 and 1995 and are expected to fall a further 66 percent by 2004, for a total decline of 92 percent.
  • Since the early 1970s, environmental regulation and voluntary industry initiatives have contributed to the decline in emissions.

Studies involving laboratory animals have found that long-term exposure to dioxin results in several types of cancer, but long-term human health effects (especially to small levels of dioxin) are uncertain. The current largest known contributor of dioxin to the air is backyard trash fires, an unregulated source of pollution.

Source: "Tracking the Dioxin Decline," State Factor, March 2003, American Legislative Exchange Council.


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