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Dioxin Occurs Naturally


The chlorine industry has attempted to attribute much of the dioxin in the environment to natural sources and to everyday familiar processes in an attempt to rid it of its image as a synthetic, man-made toxin. The idea is to present it as a natural part of modern life and to disassociate it from chlorine. The argument was first introduced by Dow in 1978 and is still used today. For example the British Plastics Federation argues: "the stark fact is that dioxins have been present in the atmosphere since man first created fire." Arnold and Gottlieb, founders of the Wise Use Movement, argued in Trashing the Economy that dioxin "is now widely recognized as a naturally occurring substance created whenever combustion of natural substances occurs" (Arnold & Gottlieb 1993, p. 13). The Chlorine Chemistry Council says:

Among the natural sources of dioxin are forest fires, volcanoes, and compost piles. Man-made sources of dioxin include municipal, hospital and hazardous waste incinerators, motor vehicles, residential wood burning and a variety of chemical manufacturing process. With so many sources, it is not surprising that scientists have detected dioxins virtually everywhere they have looked. (Quoted in Weinberg 1995, part 1)

In contrast environmental groups, such as Greenpeace, are keen to point out that dioxin is a byproduct of the chlorine industry and that dioxin is ubiquitous because chlorine products are ubiquitous. They say that motor vehicles emit dioxin because chlorinated chemicals are added to petrol, wood burning releases dioxin because of the use of chlorine-based wood preservatives and that incinerators are a major source of dioxin because of the chlorine-containing wastes burnt in them—PVC plastics in medical waste incinerators, chlorinated solvents and pesticides in hazardous waste incinerators, and PVC plastics, chlorine-bleached paper, chlorine-containing paints, pesticides and cleaners in municipal incinerators:

Dioxin in the environment at levels that potentially threaten human health is neither natural nor unavoidable; it is the necessary result of the production, distribution and disposal of the products of chlorine chemistry. Eliminating dioxin generation will require that humans stop making the chlorine-based chemicals that inevitably lead to dioxin formation. (Weinberg 1995, part 1)

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Arnold, Ron and Alan Gottlieb, 1993, Trashing the Economy: How runaway Environmentalism is Wrecking America (Bellevue, Washington: Free Enterprise Press)

Weinberg, Jack, 1995, Dow Brand Dioxin: Dow Makes You Poison Great Things, (Greenpeace).

© 2003 Sharon Beder