Dioxin clouding the press?

Bombshell: the EPA’s new study on dioxin, an organochlorine suspected of contributing to the explosion in cancer rates. Our May/June cover story investigated environmental poisons like dioxin and their links to the breast cancer epidemic.


In 1991, the chemical and paper industries–aided by the New York Times–persuaded the Environmental Protection Agency that dioxin had gotten a bum rap. The EPA agreed to a new study. Its reassessment, slated for release after numerous delays, concludes that dioxin is even worse than previously thought. Yet Times environmental reporter Keith Schneider, who once wrote that dioxin is “considered no more risky than spending a week sunbathing” (and later admitted to making it up), is still understating its dangers.

Over the years, Schneider’s dioxin stories in the “paper-of-record” helped legitimate a backlash in the press against environmentalists. Last May, when Schneider was leaked a draft of the EPA reassessment, his front-page story properly focused on dioxin’s harm to humans’ reproductive and immune systems, but downplayed its carcinogenic qualities–possibly as a way of “saving face” for his previous reporting, says Rick Hind of Greenpeace.

The study concludes that “dioxin and related compounds likely present a cancer hazard to humans”; existing levels of exposure may cause cancer in up to one of every 1,000 people. But, incredibly, Schneider wrote that “dioxin may shed part of its deadly reputation” as a result of the EPA report, and emphasized new studies that human dioxin contamination has declined. Activists admit Schneider has finally come round to some of the facts, but fault him for continuing to accept the industry line without much criticism. The nation, insists Greenpeace researcher Joe Thornton, faces a “public health emergency” that requires phasing out chlorine-based chemicals.

$500,000 MATCHING GIFT

In 2014, before Donald Trump announced his run for president, we knew we had to do something different to address the fundamental challenge facing journalism: how hard-hitting reporting that can hold the powerful accountable can survive as the bottom falls out of the news business.

Being a nonprofit, we started planning The Moment for Mother Jones: A special campaign to raise $25 million for key investments to make Mother Jones the strongest watchdog it can be. Five years later, readers have stepped up and contributed an astonishing $23 million in gifts and future pledges. This is an incredible statement from the Mother Jones community in the face of the huge threats—both economic and political—against the free press.

Read more about The Moment and see what we've been able to accomplish thanks to readers' incredible generosity so far, and please join them today. Your gift will be matched dollar for dollar, up to $500,000 total, during this critical moment for journalism.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.