Dioxin Regulations and Public Policy

Perspective on Regulatory and Public Policy Matters

For over 100 years, the people of The Dow Chemical Company have been applying science and technology to create innovative chemical, plastic and agricultural products and services. We help people live better and access to energy-efficient and affordable homes and enjoy cleaner and safer food and water. It is a privilege to participate in the betterment of society through science. However, it comes with responsibility which we take seriously.

Just as these improvements in daily life are grounded in science and consideration of risk, so too should be the policy decisions that frame the legislation and regulations under which we operate. Dow is engaged around the world in helping develop risk-based regulatory policy on managing substances, such as the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants and REACH, the European Union regulatory framework for chemicals management which entered into force on June 1, 2007. Dow is aware that our products - which provide benefits to society - also pose challenges, and we are committed to managing them and their by-products.
Both government and industry have been working to reduce dioxin emissions considerably since the 1970s. Governments use regulations, to which industry adheres.

Industry also proactively develops emissions reduction technology and new and more efficient processes that will generate fewer unwanted by-products.
There are several international, regional and national policies that focus on dioxins and furans. Dow's position on and approach to these policies can be found below:

  • European Union requirements
  • Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement and the International Joint Commission's Bi-national Toxics Strategy
  • Stockholm POPs Treaty and U.S. regulations
European Union Requirements

Dow is committed to comply fully with, and in many cases exceed, all applicable governmental requirements globally, including those related to dioxins and furans. European Union (EU) requirements seek to harmonize member country laws to avoid barriers to the free movement of goods, while protecting public health through the integrity of the food supply, as well as protecting the environment. The EU has a variety of strategies and regulations to reduce dioxin emissions into the environment, and in turn reduce human exposure.

The EU Commission provides a comprehensive Dioxin and PCB specific web site. Summary reports and links to Dioxin and PCB related legislation, research and other activities are available there.

Global Efforts/ POPs and PBTs

Certain chemicals are classified by regulatory authorities as POPs (persistent organic pollutants) and/or PBTs (substances that are persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic). Because these substances are long-lived in the environment and accumulate in living things, the goal of POPs or PBT programs is effective risk management of these substances, which Dow has, and continues, to actively support.
The classification of chemicals as POPs and/or PBTs is based on specific criteria or rules that are established by governing bodies, such as the United Nations Environmental Program, the European Union and some countries, like the United States and Canada. The criteria set by these organizations are not always identical, and a chemical may be considered a POP or PBT by one set of criteria and not by another. Once a chemical is defined as a POP or PBT, its use is usually severely restricted and in some cases banned.

An important international treaty on POPs is the United Nation's Stockholm Convention, which went into effect in 2004. The European Union established new chemical management policy, REACH, in 2006 that includes an evaluation and process for restricting the use of POPs and PBTs. In the United States, a screen for POPs and PBTs is included in the New Chemicals program under the Toxic Substances Control Act and in Canada, the Canadian Environmental Protection Act.
As a major chemical company that has customers in more than 150 countries around the world, we strive to comply with local requirements or Dow standards, whichever is more stringent. Of the 21 POPs/PBTs listed under the Stockholm Convention, (12 original and 9 added in may 2009) only dioxin, DDT, hexachlorobenzene and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) have been found in some Dow manufacturing processes.

Dow publicly reports its global dioxin emissions, as well as releases in Europe¹, and the United States.
Dow also publicly reports hexachlorobenzene releases in the United States, Canada and Europe.
At Dow, we take safety and compliance very seriously. We have teams of health professionals, scientists and other experts around the world who are committed to chemical safety, environmental protection and compliance with national, regional and international laws and regulations. A key element of Dow’s product stewardship program is to ensure that research chemicals are assessed very early in their development against a PBT screen, utilizing criteria adopted by authoritative bodies. Generally, Dow would not proceed to further develop new substances which are considered to be PBTS or, through screening, have a high likelihood to meet the PBT criteria. Existing chemicals are also assessed; those where PBT potential is plausible are evaluated further within our risk evaluation process. While risk reviews may show minimal risk due to limited exposure, Dow evaluates opportunities to reduce the levels of PBTs throughout the product life cycle.

Dow's Position
Dow strongly supports the Stockholm Convention. We are actively involved in its implementation as well as other international, regional and country specific laws and regulations. We also support a number of multi-stakeholder efforts to address POPs and PBTs at the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP), United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) and the U.S./Canada Great Lakes Bi-national Toxics Strategy. Dow supports these and other efforts to define and implement Best Available Techniques and Best Environmental Practices as part of the overall safety management of chemicals.

We have established and promote a set of Principles for Chemical Management Systems that we implement and advocate for globally.

Dow continues to evaluate opportunities to reduce the levels of these substances in the product life cycle. As with all our products and processes, Dow is committed to protecting human health and the environment, and promoting a science, risk-based approaches to define safe conditions of use and manage the risks associated with POPs and PBTs throughout the life cycle of chemical products.

Dow's Actions
Since 1995, Dow's efforts have resulted in a reduction in dioxin emissions by more than 80%, with dioxin air emissions reduced by over 95 percent. We continue to drive our emissions as low as possible.

For more information see Stockholm Convention.

¹ Dioxin and furan emissions in Europe are reported to the European Pollutant Emission Register; Dow's releases in Europe are below the reporting threshold of 1 gram/year TEQ.

Stockholm Convention - Control of Persistent Organic Pollutants

The Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants is an international treaty that operates under the auspices of the United Nations to control certain chemicals that are considered to be persistent organic pollutants (POPs), which are also known as persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic substances (PBTs). Such chemical substances are of particular concern to Dow, the chemical industry, and the public because they have the potential to cause adverse effects on human health and/or the environment.
The countries that have adopted or ratified the Stockholm Convention have agreed to take the steps necessary, through national legislation, to “virtually eliminate” sources of listed POPs. Representatives of these countries meet regularly to evaluate the status of implementing the convention and to review nominations of new POPs to be listed under the convention.

Impact to Dow:
Of the original 12 chemical substances listed as POPs under the Stockholm Convention, one - DDT - was used by Dow until 2006 as a chemical intermediate to make one product. Three additional POPs are unintended by-products of certain Dow manufacturing processes. They are dioxin, hexachlorobenzene and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).In May 2009, nine additional substances were added to the Convention. None of the additional substances is found in Dow products or operations.

Dow Position:
Dow supports the implementation of the Stockholm Convention and encourages countries to adopt the Convention, particularly the United States, which has not yet ratified the convention. Dow has made significant reductions in the emissions of these three compounds and is committed to continual reductions. Dow publicly reports its emissions of POPs in the United States and Canada.

Related Links:
Stockholm Convention

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s DRAFT Dioxin Reassessment

In 1994, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued its Dioxin Reassessment in draft form for peer review. Since that time, the understanding of dioxin science has continued to advance, and the document has been the subject of study and debate.

In October 2004, EPA delivered its updated draft dioxin reassessment to the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) for review. In July, 2006, the NAS issued its report. According to the NAS review committee, “Although the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency presented a comprehensive review of the scientific literature in its 2003 draft reassessment of the risks of dioxin, the agency did not sufficiently quantify the uncertainties and variabilities associated with the risks, nor did it adequately justify the assumptions used to estimate them.” The committee recommended that EPA better estimate the risks using several different assumptions and communicate the uncertainties in all estimates. The essence of the NAS panel’s findings is that the Draft Dioxin Reassessment overstated the risks from dioxin exposure and that the scientific information combined with the use of probabilistic risk assessment methods would support a different estimate of the theoretical risk.

Overall, the NAS panel was critical of EPA’s approach and encouraged EPA to use a more robust range of models and more current data. Specifically the committee found compelling data to justify the use of threshold (nonlinear) methods for estimating cancer risk at relatively low levels of exposure, which would result in a lower estimate of risk than in EPA's DRAFT reassessment. The report recommends that cancer risks be estimated using several models, describing the strengths and weaknesses of each. The report also recommended that EPA write a more thorough chapter on risk characterization that includes a comprehensive discussion of uncertainties of their risk assessment. The NAS panel also criticized the methods used by EPA for characterizing theoretical non-cancer risks for dioxins. In addition, the NAS panel strongly endorsed the use of probabilistic methods for evaluating the risk related to dioxins. The NAS panel made many other constructive comments regarding EPA’s risk characterization that should result in a much more accurate and robust derivation of the risk characterization for dioxin.

However the NAS panel’s task was not to provide actual dioxin risk assessment guidance. It is up to the agencies to set policy. In response to the NAS report, EPA revised the draft assessment, for review by its Science Advisory Board (SAB). The report issued by the SAB at the end of August 2011 was critical of EPA's treatment of cancer endpoints. Specifically, the SAB was critical of EPA's refusal to do a non-linear dose-response assessment for cancer endpoints or to attempt to bound the uncertainty associated with its cancer risk models. EPA anticipates issuing its final dioxin reassessment for non-cancer endpoints in January 2012, but has not set a date for the release of the dioxin reassessment for cancer endpoints.

It is important to note that industrial dioxin releases continue to decline. Today, average dioxin levels in foods such as meat, fish, poultry and dairy products, have returned to the low levels measured in foods stored from the early 1900s prior to the industrial expansion of the 20th century. This success is due to a combination of government regulations and voluntary industry efforts.