Dioxin is a collection of more than 200 extremely toxic and very persistent chemicals that includes chlorinated dibenzofurans and dibenzodioxins as well as related compounds similar in structure and effects. Dioxins persist in the environment and in our bodies. They are fat soluble and bioaccumulative.
How am I exposed?
Dioxins are the products of incomplete combustion and are formed during the production process of PVC, chlorinated solvents and pesticides and in other industrial or combustion processes involving chlorine. Once in the air, dioxin can travel long distances and then be deposited in rain, snow and dust and enter the food chain. Eating animal derived foods (e.g., meat, poultry, eggs, fish, and dairy products) is considered to be the major route of human exposure to these contaminants. Saturated fats are a key source of human exposure to dioxin.
Why should I be concerned?
At very tiny doses, dioxins have been linked to cancer, hormonal changes, neurodevelopment problems, immune and nervous system disorders, liver damage, reproductive problems and other harmful effects.
What can government and business do?
- Businesses can prevent dioxin exposure by reducing the use of products whose manufacture, use, disposal, or burning produce dioxins. Alternatives are widely available for many polyvinyl chloride (PVC products). Alternatives to backyard burning and incineration of waste (two major sources of dioxin), include composting, recycling and waste segregation, which can greatly reduce dioxin emissions into the air.
- Federal and state governments should pass legislation that would halt the use of dioxins and start phasing out dioxins and other highly persistent toxic chemicals.
How can I reduce my exposure?
- Limit consumption of protein sources that are high in animal fat such as meats and high-fat dairy products.
- Buy farmed fish that are lower on the food chain; for larger fish like salmon and sea bass, buy wild-raised. And limit consumption of fattier fish, like lake trout, or fish that are bottom dwellers, like wild catfish.
Lowell Center for Sustainable Production: Dioxin Fact sheet
Breast Cancer Fund: Dioxins