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Vernon Houk

Vernon Houk of the CDC argued that EPA standards for dioxin should be relaxed. He was speaking at a conference sponsored by Syntex, which was being sued in over 350 dioxin-related lawsuits. His statements were influential as he had been the public official who had called for the permanent evacuation of 2000 residents of Times beach, Missouri after dioxin contaminated oil had been sprayed there as a dust suppressant in the 1970s. At the time 75 horses and several cats and dogs had died. (Casten 1992; Cullton 1991; Montague 1991)

Now Houk was saying that those people had been evacuated needlessly:

In summary, with the exception of chloracne... there are no convincing data for the association of dioxin exposure in humans, with early mortality, adverse reproductive outcomes, or chronic diseases of the liver or of the immune, cardiovascular, or neurologic systems. The overall cancer question is not settled, but if dioxin is a human carcinogen, it is, in my view, a weak one that is associated only with high-dose exposures. (Houk 1992, p. 13)

Houk was quoted and cited extensively in the media. However when Houk was called before a congressional subcommittee to answer allegations of "improperly aiding the paper industry's campaign to loosen restrictions on dioxin pollution in water" he admitted that his proposals to relax dioxin standards were "taken practically verbatim from paper industry documents" (Quoted in Monks 1993). This did little damage to his credibility in the media, which had its own links with the paper industry.

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Additional Material

Casten, Liane Clorfene, 1992, 'Dioxin Charade Poisons the Press', Extra! (January/February), pp. 12-13.

Cullton, Barbara J. 1991, 'US government orders new look at dioxin', Nature, Vol. 352, No. 29 August, p. 753.

Houk, Vernon N. 1992, 'Dioxin', Consumers' Research (February), pp. 13-15.

Monks, Vicki, 'See no evil', American Journalism Review, Vol. 15, No. 5 (1993), pp. 18-25.

Montague, Peter, 1991, Dioxin Dangers - What's Going On?, Rachel's Hazardous Waste News, No. 249.

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© 2003 Sharon Beder