EPA Says Many Paper Products Contain Dioxin

Associated Press

Dioxin, a potent cause of cancer in laboratory animals, is found in tiny amounts in many paper products--such as coffee filters, napkins and tampons--bleached with chlorine, the Environmental Protection Agency announced Thursday.

But the agency said it believes there is no health hazard from using those products.

John T. Moore, assistant administrator for pesticides and toxic substances, said at a news conference that the extra risk of cancer to humans, according to “armchair calculations,” appeared to be around one in a million, which he called “negligible risk.”

“I’m not going to change my life style habits or purchasing patterns of products made from bleached paper,” Moore said.

Confidence in Products

The American Paper Institute said in a statement by its president, Red Cavaney: “Consumers can continue to have the utmost confidence in the safety and integrity of all paper products.” The statement pledged the industry to resolving the problem “in an open and forthright fashion.”


Dioxins are formed as an inevitable byproduct of the manufacture of certain chemicals, notably pesticides, that require chlorine. There are 210 dioxins and related chlorine-containing compounds, but most of the concern arises from one, called 2,3,7,8-TCDD.

This is the most powerful cause of cancer in laboratory animals, with minute amounts causing tumors at several sites. It has not been shown to cause cancer in humans, but the EPA classifies it as a probable cause of human cancers.

Environmentalists say it also causes birth defects, miscarriages and damage to the liver and immune system, but these conclusions are all hotly debated.

Moore’s news conference was called to release a nationwide study of dioxin contamination ordered by Congress in 1984. Some of the results have been coming out for months--the agency reported high dioxin concentrations in fish in and around the Great Lakes during the summer.

Moore said the EPA found these fish disproportionately in rivers used by kraft paper mills, and a study of five mills found trace amounts--a few parts per trillion--of 2,3,7,8-TCDD in the pulp. This concentration appears to carry over into the products, he said.

The kraft process uses chlorine as a bleach, and the agency believes this is the origin of the dioxin.