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Health Risks from Dioxin and Related Compounds: Evaluation of the EPA Reassessment
public is exposed to TCDD, other dioxins, and DLCs primarily by eating such foods as beef, dairy products, pork, fish, and shellfish.
The health effects of exposures to relatively high levels of dioxin became widely publicized due to the use of the herbicide called Agent Orange in the Vietnam War. Agent Orange contained small amounts of TCDD as a contaminant. Studies suggest that veterans and workers exposed occupationally to TCDD, other dioxins, and DLCs experience an increased risk of developing a potentially disfiguring skin lesion (called chloracne), liver disease, and possibly cancer and diabetes.
Fortunately, background exposures for most people are typically much lower than those seen in either Vietnam veterans or occupationally exposed workers. The potential adverse effects of TCDD, other dioxins, and DLCs from long-term, low-level exposures to the general public are not directly observable and remain controversial. One major controversy is the issue of estimating risks at doses below the range of existing reliable data. Another controversy is the issue of appropriately assessing the toxicity of various mixtures of these compounds in the environment.
In 2004, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), asked the National Research Council (NRC) of the National Academies to review its 2003 draft document titled Exposure and Human Health Reassessment of2,3,7,8-Tetrachlorodibenzo-p-Dioxin (TCDD) and Related Compounds (the Reassessment). This NRC report describes the Reassessment as very comprehensive in its review and analysis of the extensive scientific literature on TCDD, other dioxins, and DLCs. However, the NRC report finds substantial room for improvement in the quantitative approaches used by EPA to characterize risks. In particular, the committee recommends that EPA more thoroughly justify and communicate its approaches to dose-response modeling for health effects and make its criteria for selection of key data sets more transparent. EPA should also improve how it handles and communicates the substantial uncertainty that surrounds its various estimates of health risks from low-level exposures to TCDD, other dioxins, and DLCs. This NRC report provides a critical review of EPA’s Reassessment, but the report is not a risk assessment and does not recommend exposure levels for TCDD, other dioxins, or DLCs for regulatory consideration. Rather the NRC report provides guidance to EPA on how the agency could improve the scientific robustness and clarity of the Reassessment for its ultimate use in risk management of TCDD, other dioxins, and DLCs in the environment by federal, state, and local regulatory agencies.
Assessing Human Exposure to TCDD, Other Dioxins, and DLCs
People worldwide are exposed to background levels of TCDD, other dioxins, and DLCs. Background exposures include those from the commer-