Skip Navigation

A Dioxin-Free Future

Theological Foundation:

Psalm 24:1 reads, "The earth is the Lord's and the fullness of it, the world and they who dwell in it."

According to the Social Principles, "All creation is the Lord's and we are responsible for the ways in which we use and abuse it" (Social Principles ¶ 160).


For nearly three decades, the scientific and health communities, including government agencies such as the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the World Health Organization (WHO) have been assessing the human health risks of dioxin-a class of chlorine-based persistent organic pollutants. The catalyst for this assessment was a finding through animal testing in the 1970s that dioxin was the most potent cancer-causing chemical ever studied.

Since the first EPA study, issued in 1985, major advances have been made in the scientific and health communities' analytical abilities to detect-and determine the impact of-trace amounts of dioxin. A major milestone in exposing the health risks associated with dioxin was the EPA's 1994 report entitled The Scientific Reassessment of Dioxin. This report affirmed health warnings made twenty years ago-that the "background" levels of dioxin pose a serious threat to the health of the general US population.

Since 1994, the EPA report has been reviewed and revised based on comments from scientific peer review panels. An updated document was issued in 2003 titled Exposure and Human Health Reassessment of 2, 3, 7, 8, Tetrachlorodibenazo-p-dioxin (TCDD) and Related Compounds. Like the October, 2001 draft reviewed and released by panels, the conclusion remained the same: dioxin should be classified as a known human carcinogen-a view shared by the international community as expressed by WHO and within the United States through the US Department of Health and Human Services and the National Institute of Health's National Toxicology Program. In October 2004, the EPA asked the National Research Council (NRC) of the National Academies to review the 2003 draft. After receiving comments from the NRC in 2005, the EPA completed its reassessment and characterized TCDD as "carcinogenic to humans." In July 2006 the NRC issued a report on the 2005 completed report entitled Health Risks from Dioxin and Related Compounds (Evaluation of the EPA Reassessment). In that report the NRC Committee unanimously agreed on a classification for TCDD of at least "likely to be carcinogenic to humans." The committee agrees with the EPA in classifying other dioxins and DLCs as "likely to be carcinogenic to humans."

The EPA report stated that there is reason to believe that dioxins at extremely low levels cause a wide range of other serious health effects, including reproductive impairment, learning disabilities, developmental injuries, and the increased risk of diabetes and endometriosis. Furthermore, even low levels of dioxin impair the ability of the immune system to right infectious disease. The EPA report says that there is no level of dioxin below which the immune system is not affected.

Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in US women. Breast cancer is the most frequently diagnosed cancer in US women. It accounts for nearly one out of three cancers diagnosed in US women. The EPA concluded that the levels of dioxins already lodged in human bodies are already close to levels known to cause serious health problems. According to the EPA, the average person is exposed to dioxin levels 50 to 100 times greater than the maximum allowable amounts designated by the federal government in 1985.

Some persons have what the EPA calls "special" exposures, including certain occupational groups, people living near dioxin emitters, and people who consume higher than average levels of meat, fish, and dairy products. Human exposure to dioxins begins early in life, since dioxin crosses the placenta. Nursing infants take in four to twelve percent of their lifetime dose of dioxin within the first year of their lives, a period during which they are most susceptible to the effects of such toxins.

Ending toxic pollution, maintaining a clean environment, and using efficient, nonpolluting technologies are essential to a sound economy and a sustainable lifestyle. With a single program-dioxin phaseout-much of the world's most severe toxic pollution could be stopped.

The three largest sources of dioxin are incineration of chorine containing wastes, bleaching of pulp and paper with chlorine and the life-cycle of polyvinyl chloride (PVC). Of continued concern is the use of PVC products by the health care industry, especially the single use or short term use applications (i.e. "disposables"). These account for most of the organically bound chlorine in medical waste.

The American Public Health Association (APHA) has issued warnings, recognizing that "virtually all chlorinated organic compounds that have been studied exhibit at least one of a wide range of serious toxic effects such as endocrine dysfunction, developmental impairment, birth defects, reproductive dysfunction and infertility, immunosuppression and cancer, often at very low doses."

Remembering that "First Do No Harm" is a binding principle in medical ethics, the health care industry should pursue alternatives to PVC products. Appropriate alternative products composed of nonchlorinated material are currently available for many, though not all, health care uses of chlorinated plastics. Highly effective programs for the reduction of hospital waste have been initiated in the US and programs for the substitution of other materials for PVC are in place in some hospitals in Europe.

Acknowledging the ongoing risks associated with dioxin, The United Methodist Church:

  • Supports a phaseout of the production of dioxin.
  • Supports worker production programs for people working in industries that make toxic chemicals or result in toxic byproduct and related chemicals, who may lose their jobs with a phaseout of these chemicals. Such programs could include a "Workers' Superfund" program.
  • Challenges all United Methodist-related health care institutions, United Methodist health care professionals and workers, and United Methodist individuals and congregations to begin immediately to take action to change health care policies and practices in order to stop the harm being caused by nonessential incineration of medical waste and by generating a waste stream that is more toxic than necessary.
  • Urges all health care facilities to explore ways to reduce or eliminate their use of PVC plastics.
  • Calls upon all health care professionals and workers to encourage health care institutions with which they are associated to adopt policies that will lead to the reduction and elimination of the use of PVC plastics.
  • Suggests that health care facilities hire or assign professional staff to evaluate the potential for persistent toxic pollution associated with the life-cycle of products the facility purchases.
  • Strongly urges medical suppliers to develop, produce, and bring to market appropriate, cost-competitive products that can replace those that contain PVC or other chlorinated plastics. Any substitution for a chlorinated plastic product must provide a less toxic alternative with concern for the full public health implications of the replacement, including infections considerations.
  • Encourages government oversight agencies and private accrediting bodies to incorporate requirements for education about the reduction of toxic pollution in their certification standards.
  • Encourages study and evaluation of alternative products and practices that will lead to the reduction and elimination of the use of PVC products; also encourages programs to provide technical assistance and training to health care facilities that seek help in the reduction of their reliance on chlorinated plastics.
  • Directs the General Board of Church and Society to cooperate with the General Board of Global Ministries to work with companies, governments, and medical institutions to implement the above recommendations.


See Social Principles, ¶ 160.

From The Book of Resolutions of The United Methodist Church - 2012. Copyright © 2012 by The United Methodist Publishing House. Used by permission.