January 1991 a comprehensive study of US chemical workers exposed
to dioxin in the course of their work at least 20 years earlier
was published in The New England Journal of Medicine. The
13 year study was carried out by Marilyn Fingerhut and her colleagues
at the National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety on
over 5000 men who worked at 12 different factories between 1942
and 1984. It found that the workers had a 15% higher death rate
from cancer than the US average. Those exposed to low levels of
dioxin (about 90 times background levels) had no statistically
significant increase in cancers, whilst those exposed to high
levels (about 500 times background levels) were 50% more likely
to die of cancer (Roberts 1991b, p. 625).
an editorial for The New England Journal of Medicine in
which the study was published, John Bailar predicted that "Parties
on both sides of the continuing debate about the regulation of
dioxin exposure will no doubt cite this work in support of their
positions" (Bailar 1991, p. 260); which indeed they did.
chlorine and paper industries cited the Banbury conference, the
Fingerhut study and the recount of tumours from the earlier rat
study in a major public-relations campaign to show that dioxin
was safer than previously thought. They lobbied the EPA to reassess
its regulation of dioxin. Emerging evidence that dioxin could
cause a range of health effects apart from cancer was ignored.
The National Chamber Foundation, an affiliate of the US Chamber
of Commerce, released a report claiming that "new studies reveal
cancer risks from exposure to dioxin are greatly exaggerated"
and dioxin "poses no threat to humans, at either normal exposure
levels or elevated exposure levels caused by occupational practices
or industrial accidents." (Quoted in Lapp, 1991, p. 9)
...back to top
'How Dangerous is Dioxin', The New England Journal of Medicine,
Vol. 324, No. January 24, pp. 260-2.
David, 1991, 'Defenders of Dioxin: The Corporate Campaign to Rehabilitate
Dioxin', Multinational Monitor (October) , pp. 8-12.
Leslie, 1991b, 'Dioxin Risks Revisited', Science, Vol.
251 (8 February), pp. 624-6.