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How harmful are dioxins and other pollutants? Berkeley professor demonstrates a new way to estimate harm.
18 February 2001

By Catherine Zandonella, Media Relations

San Francisco - A new method to gauge the potential harm of persistent pollutants like dioxide could provide policy makers with the information they need to regulate these chemicals. Thomas McKone, a professor of environmental health science in the University of California's School of Public Health and researcher at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, will describe this new method at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science on Sunday, Feb. 18 in San Francisco.

The method, called the dose fraction, compares the amount of pollutant taken up by the human population to the amount emitted into the environment from smokestacks and other sources. The higher the dose fraction, the greater the threat to human health.

Persistent organic pollutants, or POPs, are of great concern to public health experts. POPs resist degradation, can migrate thousands of miles from where they were produced, and can be ingested and stored in the fatty tissues of fish, animals and eventually humans. Of the POPs, dioxins are some of the most potent cancer-causing agents known.

Policy-makers can use the dose fraction to sort through the thousands of chemicals annually introduced to commercial use to find those that could pose an environmental hazard, McKone said.