Dioxins are some of the most toxic chemicals known to man. Dioxins are produced whenever organic substances (anything containing carbon) are burned in the presence of chlorine. They are accidental bi-products of many manufacturing processes, and have no use themselves. Industrial processes that create dioxins include the production of plastics containing chlorine, production of pesticides like 2,4 D and paper pulp manufacturing. Many products we use every day are contaminated with trace amounts of dioxin.

Dioxins are so toxic that acceptable exposure limits are measured in picograms per kg, daily. To translate this into English it means, 0.000000000001g per Kg per day are the highest acceptable limits to which a person should be exposed. And that’s a pretty small number. Any time something is burned, it is likely that a tiny amount of dioxins is produced. As we have just discussed – even tiny amounts of dioxins are bad. In reality there is NO acceptable level of dioxin exposure – any amount of additional exposure might have an adverse effect on health.

Dioxins are strong carcinogens, greatly increasing cancer rates in exposed populations. They are endocrine disruptors causing permanent damage to the reproductive systems of both men and women. They are neurotoxins and can damage the brain and peripheral nervous system. They are teratogenic and cause birth defects and miscarriages. They are mutagenic and permanently alter genes and damage DNA. Research has also linked dioxins to diabetes and cardiovascular disease, and less well-understood disorders like endometriosis.

There is a myriad of health problems that dioxin can cause, without people being aware of the source of their ailments. Sadly the medical profession is largely unaware of discussions in toxicological discourse linking health problems to environmental contamination. Dioxins are persistent and lipophilic. This means they get stored in your body fat and in human breast milk, where they take years to break down. Over a lifetime this cumulative build-up causes an array of health problems.

Forest fires have been shown to produce between 50g – 1000g of dioxins per year. Bearing in mind that it takes only a picogram of dioxin to exceed ‘safe’ exposure levels – that’s an awful lot of dioxin from forest burning. (Remember 1 picogram = 0.000000000001 kg.) I think you can see where I’m going with this argument. The fact that Forestry’s burning in April this year has exceeded national air quality standards, is shocking. It is unnecessarily increasing our exposure to dioxins in Tasmania. Tasmania already has higher than average dioxin levels, due to industries like paper production, industries using pesticides and our use of wood fires to heat homes. Any additional exposure is likely to have negative health effects and should be taken very seriously.

Clearly current regulations are insufficient for controlling Forestry’s damaging practices. The air quality was so bad over the week starting Monday April 19th that hills surrounding Hobart and Mt Wellington were misty. The smoke masked the mouth of the Derwent River, and formed a thick haze over the Eastern Shore’s hills. It was far-reaching and pervasive in all directions.

Even in areas where the haze was not so thick, people were complaining of respiratory irritation, some weren’t aware that it was caused from Forestry burn-offs. The haze looked like the kind of pollution that is present in the industrialised third world – hardly a good look for a place that promotes itself as a clean, green & pristine tourist attraction. In the First World, there are no excuses for this kind of industrial behaviour – or maybe the problem is that Tasmania is just not part of the First World – it’s the Third World where industry rules and the rights of citizens are exploited, because they know no better.

A simple apology from Forestry for the damage they are causing is laughable. Is that all our health is worth – a verbal apology? It wouldn’t be accepted in the US, or the EU.

Smoking in public is prohibited, why is Forestry allowed to belch out it’s smoke all over the WHOLE island for days?

The fact that asthmatics were warned to stay indoors is outrageous.

How can industry activities restrict the movements of citizens?

What kind of compensation do they propose for this severe inconvenience and potential health risks?

After the next heavy rains, the toxins in the smoke will be deposited on the ground and make their way into drinking water supplies poisoning the water we drink. To add insult to injury, some of Forestry’s burns are not even necessary, and date back to an archaic practice where the economic value of specialty timber is not even recognised. The burns are wasting valuable economic resources and placing our health in jeopardy – a lose-lose situation.

Please register any complaints about air quality from forestry burnoffs with the Forestry Practices Authority at: http://www.fpa.tas.gov.au/index.php?id=135

Also contact the Asthma Foundation of Tasmania to register your complaint: info@asthmatas.org.au or free call 1800 645 130.

Read more in ‘Dying from Dioxin – A citizens Guide to Reclaiming Our Health and Rebuilding Democracy’, by Lois Marie Gibbs.

If we don’t stand up for ourselves and protect our own health, nobody else is going to do it for us.