- Associated Press - Sunday, February 19, 2012

Food and agricultural groups are worried that the release of a long-awaited federal study on the health effects of dioxins will lead to new regulations from the Obama administration on what Americans can eat.

The study, released Friday, says the persistent contaminants at current levels don’t pose significant health risks, but for the first time establishes a benchmark for exposure — an exposure that, for most Americans, comes through their daily diet.

The analysis by the Environmental Protection Agency was more than two decades in the making.

The study sets a limit for how much dioxin a person can be exposed to over lifetime without potentially experiencing health effects other than cancer. Those include damage to the immune and reproductive systems, skin rashes and liver damage.

The EPA already has a benchmark for cancer risk posed by dioxin, which is a known human carcinogen. That risk level is being re-evaluated separately.

The updated figure released Friday could lead to more stringent cleanup standards for hazardous waste sites and tighter limits on the amount of dioxin allowed in water and air.

“By releasing this important part of the scientific assessment, we can begin to develop a cohesive plan to safeguard American families from dioxin exposure,” said Rep. Edward J. Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat who wrote to the EPA last month pressing the agency to release the overdue assessment.

But food and agricultural groups have argued the new benchmark would translate into costly new regulations from the Obama administration.

In December, the American Frozen Food Institute, the American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Chicken Council and others told the White House in a letter that most Americans could “easily exceed the daily [0.7 picogram limit] after consuming a single meal or heavy snack” — one toxicologist has said a typical hot dog would do the trick.

The American Chemistry Council, a chemical industry trade group, said in a statement Friday that the EPA’s analysis was flawed and would provide no public health benefit because the “EPA contends that current levels of dioxin do not pose a health concern.”

Dioxin is released by coal-fired plants, burning waste and other industrial processes. People are exposed by eating fish and other animal fats, where it accumulates after falling to the ground.

Since 1987, the amount of dioxide being released into the air has declined by 90 percent, according to the EPA.