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Owen McShane: Dioxin Levels In Blood

Dioxin Levels In Blood

Owen McShane

The ambient levels of dioxin in New Zealand are incredibly low by world standards. Only the Antarctic has lower ambient levels. Therefore the levels of dioxin in New Zealand blood is incredibly low.

Before people rush to judgment we should be comparing the dioxin levels in these tested people in New Zealand with levels in Japan and Scandinavia where ambient levels can be 100 times higher than in New Zealand.

Until we have that comparison we do not know if these people are suffering from dioxin 'poisoning' or not.

What if their levels turn out to be 100 times lower than the levels in Japanese blood - given that the Japanese life expectancy is so much greater than ours.

I am astonished that no one has raised this point.

There is a general perception out there that NZ has high levels of dioxins in our environment whereas the opposite is true.

A piece I wrote a couple of years ago in the NBR follows:

Dioxin – the unholy fear.

A few years ago a group of scientists investigated the presence of dioxins in New Zealand’s soil, water and air.

Dioxins are the doomcasters’ favourite toxic chemical even though there is no death certificate in the world which records dioxin poisoning as the cause of death.

Anyhow the scientists did their work well and found we have far and away the lowest levels of ambient dioxin in the developed world. When I say lower I mean much, much lower.

Our levels of dioxin in urban air are typically about 50 times lower than those of Japan, Poland and the United States. Our rural ambient levels are 1,000 times lower than those of parts of Japan, Taiwan and even Australia. The level of dioxin in our fish is 1,000 times lower than in those of Canada, and Germany.

Having read this wonderful news I phoned an officer in the MfE and suggested we could now close down the programme, and spend the money on something useful. I soon was told that this is not how things work in Wellington. I learned that such low levels are a comparative advantage and so we should spend heaps to make them even lower.

To get the ball rolling the Ministry's Report on these findings boldly announced that one third of our dietary intake of dioxins comes from consuming dairy products.

Naturally this dreadful news was trumpeted in Parliament and true patriots sent the good news around the world. (In envirospeak, good news is bad news and bad news is good news).

I could find nothing in the data to back up this frightening claim. Finally I telephoned one of the scientists and popped the question – “How come?”

He explained that even with modern technology they had found no dioxin in our dairy products.

“Hold on” I said, “the Ministry’s report says that our dairy foods are full of it.”

He explained that the international convention rules that if something is “undetectable” we should assume that it is present at half the detectable limit.

These detectable limits are low. For example, the level of standardised dioxin in the air in our rural areas can be as low as one fentogram of dioxin per cubic metre of air. If we were measuring time, this would be the equivalent of one second in 32,000 million years. The universe is only about 12,000 million years old.

But because there is so little dioxin in anything else we eat, and because we do eat a lot of dairy food, the Ministry for the Environment can actually imply that our dairy products are contaminated.

Fonterra should sue.

The story has now moved to its inevitable conclusion.

The MfE is now proposing that to reduce the levels of pastoral dioxins even further, farmers should no longer be allowed to incinerate their household rubbish on the farm. The plastics produce dioxins. So do forest fires, but never mind.

Where will this rubbish go? The folk in Wellington hope this rule will discourage waste and encourage recycling. I suspect some will be recycled onto the roadside.

Most farmers will carry on burning their domestic waste.

This offence will be impossible to monitor evenhandedly and so citizens will be encouraged to dob in any offenders.

Those people who move into the country seeking Arcadia will have yet another excuse to persecute their productive neighbours.

That’s how “political” science works.


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