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The Banbury Conference


Chlorine Institute logoThe Chlorine Institute also attempted to shift the scientific consensus concerning dioxin. In 1990 the Chlorine Institute, a chlorine industry trade group with members such as Dow Chemical, Du Pont, Georgia-Pacific, International Paper, and Exxon Chemical Co, organised a conference of dioxin scientists at the Banbury Center. The Chlorine Institute believed that scientists were coming to perceive that dioxin was not as dangerous as once thought and they hoped that the conference would be "beneficial to our interests, particularly our interest in the paper industry." It appointed three scientists as organisers and they in turn picked the 38 participants; scientists and regulators from the US and Europe. Also in attendance was George Carlo, consultant to the Institute. The Institute hired Edelman Medical Communications to publicise any conference outcome that was to the Institute's advantage. (Lapp 1991, p. 10; Roberts, 1991a)

Conference attendees agreed that dioxin affects cells by binding to and activating a receptor which then acts on the nucleus of the cell, interacting with the DNA and causing problems. This is similar to the way steroid hormones act. Some of those attending concluded that this implied that, as a number of molecules of dioxin had to bind to the receptor before toxic effects would occur, low doses of dioxin could be safe and therefore there was a threshold or safe level of exposure. This, they argued, would imply that the EPA's no threshold, linear model had overestimated the dangers of dioxin (Clapp et al 1995, p. 30A)

Following the conference, Edelman, their PR firm, sent out a press packet with a background paper put together by Carlo, Edelman and the Institute, claiming that the conference had reached a consensus that dioxin was "much less toxic to humans than originally believed." This outraged some of the scientists present who had not reached this conclusion and who felt that they had been manipulated by the Chlorine Institute (Roberts 1991a).

According to the magazine Chemistry and Industry, the Institute was merely coordinating a "public outreach program" to "capitalise [sic] on the outcome" of the conference. (Quoted in Montague 1991b) Indeed the industry was able to use the supposed Banbury conference consensus together with the rat tumour re-count to get some states in the US to loosen dioxin standards for discharge of wastes into waterways below those set by the EPA (Bailey 1992). (They are technically able to do this if they can support their standards scientifically.)

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Bailey, Jeff, 1992, 'Dueling Studies: How Two Industries Created a Fresh Spin on the Dioxin Debate', Wall Street Journal, 20 February, p. A4.

Clapp, Richard, Peter deFur, Ellen Silbergeld and Peter Washburn, 1995, 'EPA on Right Track', Environmental Science and Technology, Vol. 29, No. 1, pp. 29A-30A.

Montague, Peter, 1991b, A Tale of Science and Industry, Rachel's Hazardous Waste News, No. 248.

Lapp, David, 1991, 'Defenders of Dioxin: The Corporate Campaign to Rehabilitate Dioxin', Multinational Monitor (October) , pp. 8-12.

Roberts, Leslie, 1991a, 'Flap Erupts Over Dioxin Meeting', Science, Vol. 251 (22 February) , pp. 866-7.

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© 2003 Sharon Beder