Dioxins & Furans: The Most Toxic Chemicals Known to Science

dioxin molecule
Latest News: EPA Finally Begins to Release Dioxin Report

Communities and our Food Supply Poisoned by EPA's 27 Years of Delays in Releasing Dioxin Report

Recent stories on dioxin in the news:

What is dioxin?

Recent Dioxin Timeline:

January 31, 2012: EPA once again misses their deadline for finalizing their report on the noncancer impacts of dioxin.

January 26, 2012: Thousands of individuals and organizations from across the United States write to EPA urging the agency to finalize this study once and for all

January 10-31, 2012: Over a two week period, 30 organizations send letters to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson urging EPA to finalize dioxin studies

January 11, 2012: International Dairy Food Association (IDFA) and other members of the Food Industry Dioxin Working Group, a coalition of agriculture, processing and retail food industry organizations that have been pressuring EPA and the Obama Administration to once again delay the release of the dioxin report, formally ask EPA to withdraw its dioxin risk reassessment from interagency review and remove it from EPA’s regulatory schedule.

January 10, 2012: Representative Ed Markey (D-MA), Ranking Member of the Natural Resources Committee and senior member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, sends EPA a letter urging the agency to finalize the dioxin study.

January 5, 2012: EPA announces that overall dioxin releases increased by 18% from 2009-2010 nationally, and dioxin air releases increased by 10%

December 20, 2011: American Chemistry Council (ACC) requests EPA delay the release of the dioxin reassessment

December 7, 2011: IDFA and other members of the Food Industry Dioxin Working Group, urge the White House to intervene on the dioxin reassessment

November 2, 2011: IDFA writes to U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and requests that the two agencies "urge EPA to pursue scientific review by the National Academy of Sciences of any proposed reference dose and to coordinate with your agencies any actions that could undermine consumer confidence in the safety of our food supply."

August 29, 2011: EPA announces its final plan for completing their study on dioxin, which EPA has been working on since 1985.

August 26, 2011: EPA Science Advisory Board (SAB) releases their final report reviewing EPA’s draft dioxin Reanalysis

April 11, 2011: Rep. Markey and 72 members of Congress send a letter to EPA calling on the agency to release the study.

Dioxins and furans are some of the most toxic chemicals known to science. A draft report released for public comment in September 1994 by the US Environmental Protection Agency clearly describes dioxin as a serious public health threat. The public health impact of dioxin may rival the impact that DDT had on public health in the 1960's. According to the EPA report, not only does there appear to be no "safe" level of exposure to dioxin, but levels of dioxin and dioxin-like chemicals have been found in the general US population that are "at or near levels associated with adverse health effects."

Dioxin is a general term that describes a group of hundreds of chemicals that are highly persistent in the environment. The most toxic compound is 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin or TCDD. The toxicity of other dioxins and chemicals like PCBs that act like dioxin are measured in relation to TCDD. Dioxin is formed as an unintentional by-product of many industrial processes involving chlorine such as waste incineration, chemical and pesticide manufacturing and pulp and paper bleaching. Dioxin was the primary toxic component of Agent Orange, was found at Love Canal in Niagara Falls, NY and was the basis for evacuations at Times Beach, MO and Seveso, Italy.

Dioxin is formed by burning chlorine-based chemical compounds with hydrocarbons. The major source of dioxin in the environment comes from waste-burning incinerators of various sorts and also from backyard burn-barrels. Dioxin pollution is also affiliated with paper mills which use chlorine bleaching in their process and with the production of Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) plastics and with the production of certain chlorinated chemicals (like many pesticides).

Does dioxin cause cancer?

Yes. The EPA report confirmed that dioxin is a cancer hazard to people. In 1997, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) -- part of the World Health Organization -- published their research into dioxins and furans and announced on February 14, 1997, that the most potent dioxin, 2,3,7,8-TCDD, is a now considered a Group 1 carcinogen, meaning that it's a known human carcinogen.

Also, in January 2001, the U.S. National Toxicology Program upgraded 2,3,7,8-TCDD from "Reasonably Anticipated to be a Human Carcinogen" to "Known to be a Human Carcinogen." See their reports on dioxins and furans from their 11th Report on Carcinogens (find related documents under 2,3,7,8-Tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD) and Furan). Finally, a 2003 re-analysis of the cancer risk from dioxin reaffirmed that there is no known "safe dose" or "threshold" below which dioxin will not cause cancer.

A July 2002 study shows dioxin to be related to increased incidence of breast cancer.

What other health problems are linked to dioxin exposure?

In addition to cancer, exposure to dioxin can also cause severe reproductive and developmental problems (at levels 100 times lower than those associated with its cancer causing effects). Dioxin is well-known for its ability to damage the immune system and interfere with hormonal systems.

Dioxin exposure has been linked to birth defects, inability to maintain pregnancy, decreased fertility, reduced sperm counts, endometriosis, diabetes, learning disabilities, immune system suppression, lung problems, skin disorders, lowered testosterone levels and much more. For an detailed list of health problems related to dioxin, read the People's Report on Dioxin.

How are we exposed to dioxin?

The major sources of dioxin are in our diet. Since dioxin is fat-soluble, it bioaccumulates, climbing up the food chain. A North American eating a typical North American diet will receive 93% of their dioxin exposure from meat and dairy products (23% is from milk and dairy alone; the other large sources of exposure are beef, fish, pork, poultry and eggs). In fish, these toxins bioaccumulate up the food chain so that dioxin levels in fish are 100,000 times that of the surrounding environment. The best way to avoid dioxin exposure is to reduce or eliminate your consumption of meat and dairy products by adopting a vegan diet. According to a May 2001 study of dioxin in foods, "The category with the lowest [dioxin] level was a simulated vegan diet, with 0.09 ppt.... Blood dioxin levels in pure vegans have also been found to be very low in comparison with the general population, indicating a lower contribution of these foods to human dioxin body burden."

In EPA's dioxin report, they refer to dioxin as hydrophobic (water-fearing) and lipophilic (fat-loving). This means that dioxin, when it settles on water bodies, will rapidly accumulate in fish rather than remain in the water. The same goes for other wildlife. Dioxin works its way to the top of the food chain.

Men have no ways to get rid of dioxin other than letting it break down according to its chemical half-lives. Women, on the other hand, have two ways which it can exit their bodies:

If you're eating the typical North American diet, this is where you are getting your dioxin from:

Dioxin Exposure Chart
Chart from EPA Dioxin Reassessment Summary 4/94 - Vol. 1, p. 37
(Figure II-5. Background TEQ exposures for North America by pathway)

[A TEQ is a dioxin Toxic EQuivalent, calculated by looking at all toxic dioxins and furans and measuring them in terms of the most toxic form of dioxin, 2,3,7,8-TCDD. This means that some dioxins/furans might only count as half a TEQ if it's half as toxic as 2,3,7,8-TCDD.]

Levels of Dioxin in U.S. Food Supply (1995):

Dioxin Levels in Food

[Chart from May 2001 study by Arnold Schecter et. al., Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, Part A, 63:1–18]

Note: freshwater fish were farm-raised on a diet of meat, which is why they show the highest dioxin levels in this study.

For more information on dioxin in the food supply...

EPA's Dioxin Reassessment Report and Related Government Documents

Where Dioxin Comes From:

Health Effects Reports:

Read about the convoluted nearly 25+ year history of EPA's dioxin reassessment to learn why it is still not out in final form. For more details on this, read the Behind Closed Doors report about the chemical industry's efforts to block final release of EPA's dioxin report.

U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO) Reports:


Good Overviews of Dioxin

Dioxin documents available from the Center for Health, Environment and Justice: Other Valuable Resources:

Books on Dioxin:

Endocrine Disruptors

Dioxins and Incineration:

Anti-Incineration Links:

Environmental Research Foundation's
RACHEL's Environment & Health Weekly Issues

Dioxin & Incineration

#326Carol Browner's Opportunity [Jacksonville]
#325Troubles Engulf Hazardous Waste Incineration
#314Cement And Kiln Dust Contain Dioxins
#312EPA Memo Says All Hazardous Waste Incinerators Fail To Meet Regulations
#311The Jacksonville, Arkansas Incinerator
#280Hazardous Waste Incinerators Fail, EPA Says
#179Medical Incinerators Emit Dangerous Metals And Dioxin, New Study Says
#82Incineration of Infectious Waste: Poorly Understood Hazards
#45Part 4: Scientists Study How 'Mass Burn' Incinerators Produce Dioxin
#31Part 1: Do 'Mass Burn' Incinerators Endanger Humans?

Dioxin & Health Effects

#463Dioxin and Health
#438Warning on Male Reproductive Health [endocrine disruptors]
#436The Dogs of War [pesticides; antibiotics]
#414Potent Immune System Poison [dioxin]
#400EPA Investigates Monsanto
#365New Era in Toxicology [endocrine disruptors]
#364Dioxin and PCBs and Endometriosis
#353Dioxin Causes Human Cancers
#343Do Chemicals Diminish Masculinity? [endocrine disruptors]
#290Dioxin 'Demasculinizes' Rats [endocrine disruptors]
#264Endocrine Disruptors--Part 2: Major Challenge To Business As Usual
#263Endocrine Disruptors--Part 1: Chemicals In Environment Affect Sexual Growth In Wildlife. And Humans?
#219Dioxin--Part 4: New Study Links Dioxin To Human Cancer
#212Report Links Herbicide Exposure To Illnesses Among Vietnam Veterans
#175Dioxin--Part 3: New Evidence That Dioxin Causes Human Cancers & Other Diseases
#173Dioxin--Part 2: Gauging The Toxicity Of Dioxin
#171Dioxin--Part 1: Dioxins And Cancer: Fraudulent Studies
#120Dangers Of Dioxin Exposures: Absorption Through The Skin
#73Study Of Dioxin-Exposed Humans Reveals Cancer, Birth Defects

Dioxin Politics

#479Nationwide Dioxin Campaign
#457Dioxin Inquisition
#405Turning Point for the Chemical Industry [dioxin]
#391Dioxin Reassessed, Part 2
#390Dioxin Reassessed, Part 1
#363Taking the Handle Off the Chlorine Pump
#346Detoxifying Everything [Bad journalism]
#310The N.Y. Times Detoxifies Dioxin [Again]
#283Army Opens A Front [chemical weapons incinerators]
#275Dioxin Detoxification Campaign [paper industry]
#270EPA: Dioxin Damages Human Immune System
#269EPA: New Picture of Dioxin's Toxicity Emerges
#249Dioxin Dangers -- What's Going On?
#248A Tale Of Science And Industry [dioxin]

Dioxin-Related Email Lists / Archives

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Ban Toxics List Archives (to subscribe, send a blank email to: ban-toxics-subscribe@yahoogroups.com)

There used to be an email list called "dioxin-l" which no longer exists, but its archives are available at the following pages:

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