Dioxin Is a Real Risk In Our Sound
By Harry Branch
These days, global warming and overpopulation get a lot of press. Exposure to toxic chemicals has been taking a back seat. Why worry? People are living longer than ever. If chemicals in the environment were a problem we'd be dropping like flies. We all carry dioxin in our bodies with no ill effects, right?
I decided to do a little web browser study of dioxin... to first look at possible health impacts and then work backward from these. This was only a look at articles and press releases, not peer review literature.
One can find a few non-scientific, politically-motivated opinions that claim the impact of dioxin is overstated. The vast majority of articles indicate otherwise.
Dioxin is a powerful hormone-disrupting chemical. Since diabetes is an insulin problem might there be a link to dioxin? Sure enough there is an epidemic of diabetes that exceeds what we would expect to see based on obesity, diet, and exercise. Chemicals in our environment are commonly blamed in studies. Dioxins in particular have been linked to diabetes.
Dioxin causes nerve damage. Might it be related to Parkinson's? Once again a number of studies link Parkinson's to chemical exposure — including exposure to dioxin. Parkinson's is expected to double in the next 20 years. The disease didn't even exist prior to industrialization.
Dioxin is a known carcinogen. Since it adheres to fat, cancers of the fatty tissues like those in the breast and brain would be a particular concern.
Over a thirty year period ending in 2004 breast cancer increased in the UK by 81%. During the 1990s the disease increased each year in the US by 1.1%. Even though mortality has tapered off due to better detection and treatment, we now have the highest rate of breast cancer in recorded history.
According to the American Cancer Society there was a 50% increase in deaths caused by primary brain cancer between 1992 and 2002. According to the National Cancer Institute there's been a 1% per year increase in brain cancer deaths since 1973. Here in Olympia I've personally known four individuals who've died of brain cancer in the past five years: Mark Nobel, Steve Chirac, Jeff Cederholm and Bernie Friedman. Mark's death was directly linked to chemical exposure through his work as a firefighter, chemicals like dioxin that form when plastic burns. Growing up I never heard of brain cancer.
If we see a 1% increase in mortality per year, in 100 years would we see 100% mortality? Probably not. Numbers don't work that way. But what if we see this trend among several diseases? Could it spell the end of the human race? Once persistent toxins enter the food chain there's precious little we can do.
But even one person suffering or dying from exposure to toxic chemicals is too many. To encourage exposure would be wrong. Children are most susceptible to chemical exposure and children are the ones most inclined to play on a beach.
I hope all local beaches where children would be inclined to play are not contaminated. Since much of Budd Bay is contaminated by high levels of dioxin one has to wonder. Unfortunately, it's proving very difficult to get a reply regarding beach contamination from the Port, the City, the County, or the State.
Harry Branch has an M.A .from The Evergreen State College in Environmental Studies. His Essay of Distinction addressed the potential for marine reserves and cooperatives.
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