Is the dioxin debate described in the May 31 news story "Scientists Temper Views on Cancer-Causing Potential of Dioxin" really a matter of science, or is it about money? This how-many-angels- can-dance-on-the-head-of-this-pin argument concerning quantities of dioxin that cause cancer will continue as long as the manufacturers, users and disposers of chlorine and chlorine-based chemicals protect their profits.
Fueling the debate buys them more time and money, and it pays well for scientists willing to come down on their side. Unfortunately, the longer the debate runs, more people lose, especially the babies dosed with dioxin in their mothers' wombs, from their mothers' milk and then by life-long exposure to dioxin in their food and air. Limiting this debate to "cancer-causing potential" is misleading. Studies of monkeys already suggest that cancer is only the most blatant of dioxin's many effects. Like lead, dioxin causes developmental effects -- such as abnormalities in learning and behavior -- at extremely low doses.
Fortunately, dioxin is not an inescapable fact of life. The solution to the dioxin problem is prevention -- avoiding all uses of chlorine that can lead, directly or indirectly, to the formation of dioxin and its many persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic associates. Just as there are chlorine-free bleaching processes now in use by Swedish pulp and paper mills, chlorine-free alternatives are available for many other dioxin sources.
Scientists are never going to agree on the numeric potency of dioxin. In the long run, the number doesn't matter. What does matter is that dioxin and its chemical cousins are ubiquitous in the air, food and bodies of U.S. citizens.
The long-term effects of this widespread dioxin contamination on the human health and the environment are potentially devastating. But, like other pollution problems, the solution to the dioxin problem is prevention -- stop making dioxin now. PAT COSTNER Research Director, Greenpeace Toxics Campaign Washington