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Monday, September 28, 2020

Dioxins: Definition, Dangers, Sources, Types, and More

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Dioxins are a class of severely toxic chemical compounds that are hazardous to health. They can cause difficulties with the immune ad reproduction system, as well as development. They can also interrupt hormones and lead to cancerous growth.

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Also Known as persistent environmental pollutants (POPs), they can remain in the environment for several years. They are everywhere around us.

Some nations of the world are trying to cut down on the production of dioxins in various industries. In the United States of America (U.S.A), dioxins are not manufactured or used commercially, although they may come about as a byproduct of other processes.

Over the last 30 years, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other bodies have made efforts and reduced the manufacturing of dioxin levels in the U.S. by about 90 percent.

Furthermore, it is difficult to eradicate dioxins as Natural sources such as volcanoes also release them into the atmosphere, they can cross borders, and they do not break down quickly, so remnants of old dioxins still remain in the atmosphere.

What are dioxins?

Dioxins may be released into the environment by backyard burning and commercial waste incineration. Dioxins are highly harmful chemicals that are everywhere in the environment.

Incinerating processes, such as commercial or urban waste incineration, backyard burning, and the use of fuels, such as oil, coal, or wood, generate dioxins.

The compounds then accumulate in high concentrations in soils and sediment, while Air, Plants, and water contain low concentrations of dioxins.

When dioxins enter the body via food, they are stored in animal fats. About 90 percent of human exposure to dioxins comes via food, mainly animal products, such as fish, meat, dairy, and shellfish.

Once ingested, dioxins can stay in the body for an extended period. They are stable chemicals, hence do not break down rapidly, it may take within 7 and 11 years for a dioxin’s radioactivity to become half its original concentration.

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Sources of dioxin

Volcanic activities, forest fires, and other natural sources have always released dioxins, but in the 20th century, industrial activities caused the levels to rise drastically.

Human activities that generate dioxins can include but are not limited:

  • Burning household garbage
  • Bleaching of pulp and paper with chlorine
  • Chemical processes such as the production of pesticides and herbicides and other processes
  • Dismantling and recycling of electronic products
  • Cigarette smoke also contains little quantities of dioxins.

Drinking water can sometimes contain dioxins if it has been polluted by chemical waste from industries, or by other industrial processes.

Sometimes, significant contamination happens.

  • In 2008, due to contaminated animal feeds, pork products from Ireland carried about 200 percent of the permitted amount of dioxins.
  • In 1999, unlawful disposal of an industrial oil made animal feed and animal-based food products from some other countries like Belgium to be contaminated.
  • In an industrial accident that happened in 1976, a cloud of toxic chemicals, including dioxins, were released, which affected thousands of people living in Italy.

Also, in 2004, the president of Ukraine Viktor Yushchenko was deliberately poisoned with dioxins.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the most reported incident of dioxin contamination takes place in industrialized countries where there are methods of monitoring and reporting.

In other places, especially in underdeveloped countries, high dioxin levels may go unreported.


Low-level exposure to dioxins may occur through inhaling air that has trace amounts.

More than 60% of the population are exposed to low-level dioxins, mainly through their diet. Lower exposure is made possible via contact with soil, water, and air.

This can occur when a person:

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  • Inhales vapor or air that have trace quantities
  • Accidentally intake of soil containing dioxins
  • Absorption of dioxins through skin contact with water, air or soil,

Dioxins in tampons and water bottles

Experts have raised concerns about dioxins in women’s hygiene products, especially in tampons. In the late 1990s, chlorine was used in bleach in tampon production, and hence dioxin levels were higher. Chlorine is no longer used as bleach.

The United States of America’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reports that while hints of dioxins exist in tampons, regular tampon use would account for less than 0.2 percent of a woman’s recommended intake of dioxins monthly.

Concerns have also been raised that plastic water bottles include dioxins, although professionals have countered these concerns.

They, however, said that water bottles carry BPA phthalates, which can cause hormonal and endocrine issues, and although not scientifically proven reproductive problems also.


There are different types of dioxins, although they are part of three closely related families.

Which are:

  • Chlorinated dibenzofurans (CDFs)
  • Chlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins (CDDs)
  • Some polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)

CDFs and CDDs are not produced intentionally. They are produced abated by natural processes or human activities

PCBs are created toxin products, although they can no longer be made legally in the United States of America (U.S.A.).

Most times, the term dioxin is usually used to refer to one of the most toxic dioxins 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD). TCDD has been connected to the herbicide Agent Orange, which was utilized during the Vietnam War to remove the leaves from trees.

In the environment?

Dioxins don’t decompose rapidly in the environment. When airborne, some dioxins may be moved to long distances. as a result of this, they are available almost everywhere in the world. Which is why efforts to eradicate them must be made worldwide

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When dioxins are discharged into water bodies, they settle into sediments, where they can be further transferred or consumed by fish or other aquatic organisms.

Dioxins can be concentrated in the food chain; thereby, animals have higher concentrations than plants, water, soil, or sediments. In animals, dioxins tend to amass in fat.

Health risks and complication

different from naturally produced dioxins, industrial activities have led to a drastic rise in levels of dioxins released as a result of man’s activities in the atmosphere in the 20th century. Consequently, most people will have a higher level of dioxin in their systems.

Researchers have discovered that exposure to dioxins may result in adverse health problems, including cancers, infertility, and even hormonal issues.

High levels of exposure to dioxin even over a short period can cause chloracne, which is a skin disease with pimple-like lesions predominately on the upper body and the face. This can arise if there is an accident or a major contamination accident.

Other problems that can arise can include:

Long-term exposure can have an overwhelming impact on a developing nervous system, as well as the reproductive and the endocrine.

Studies have also inferred that workplace exposure to high levels of dioxins over the years can increase the risk of getting cancer.

Though the risks of dioxin exposure to one’s health depend on varying factors, including:

  • When the person was exposed
  • How long and how often they were exposed
  • The level of exposure

Research on animals also indicated that exposure to low levels of dioxins over a long period, or a high-level exposure at sensitive times, can cause reproductive problems.

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Problems that can be connected to dioxins exposure include:

Nonetheless, regular background exposure is believed to not be dangerous to human health.

Reducing exposure

Testing for dioxins in humans is not routinely available.

One way to reduce the risk from dioxins is by eating lean meats and fish and removing any fat whilst cooking meat. Also, eating a balanced diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables can reduce the proportion of animal fat in the diet.

When fishing for food, the National Institutes of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) advises people to check on the dioxin levels with the local authority.

The EPA noted that backyard burning could be a significant source of dioxins.

“Backyard burning of waste materials creates higher levels of dioxins than industrial incinerators and is particularly dangerous because it releases pollutants at the ground level where they are more readily inhaled or incorporated into the food chain.” EPA

The EPA recommends that people should follow best practices when carrying out backyard burning.

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Disclaimer: This article is purely informative & educational in nature and should not be construed as medical advice. Please use the content only in consultation with an appropriate certified medical or healthcare professional.

Jennifer Aigbini
I am a language enthusiast, studying Linguistics at the University of Benin, in Nigeria.
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