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Dioxins and health, 2nd edition
  1. F D Pollitt

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    Edited by Arnold Schecter and Thomas A Gasiewicz (pp 952, £96.95), 2003, Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 0 471 43355 1

    The second edition of this book is published seven years after the first, in which time the science of dioxins and related compounds has moved on (related compounds are those whose action also appears to be mediated via binding to a cellular protein called the Ah receptor). The book reflects the progress in the field, with several new chapters on the Ah receptor, and a marked emphasis on new information on the molecular biology of dioxins in the updates of existing chapters. These cover all relevant areas of toxicology and epidemiology, as well as sources, distribution, and risk assessment.

    It is important to note that this is not a textbook. It is a collection of chapters written by some of the leading researchers in the field and it reflects the detailed knowledge that these individuals have in their own areas. For example, the chapter on the immunotoxicology of dioxins opens with a clear introductory text on the basics of the immune system but progresses quickly to a discussion of complex immunology and virus infection models. The target audience which, according to the editors, includes “well-educated and intelligent lay persons” will struggle with much of this. However, other chapters are more readable. There are good and extensive reviews of the animal carcinogenicity and reproductive toxicity data on dioxins. I particularly enjoyed the chapter on reproductive epidemiology which had a good summary and where the authors had assessed the data against the Bradford-Hill criteria to test the strength of evidence for effects of dioxins on the human reproductive system. Of particular interest to the general reader might be the chapter on the Seveso accident of 1976, which has been revised to include a discussion of the result of the 20 year mortality study on the exposed population.

    The book has few other problems. It is repetitive with several chapters overlapping in content. In places it is not up-to-date. For example, the discussion of risk assessment in the overview lacks any mention of the key 2001 risk assessments by the WHO Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) and the European Union’s Scientific Committee for Food (SCF) which were both based on the developmental effects of dioxin rather than its carcinogenicity, the basis of earlier risk assessments. Nevertheless, it fills a gap in the market and would be a valuable source for a biomedical professional interested in learning more about these fascinating chemicals.