Dioxins: what they are and how to avoid them

Dioxins are environmental pollutants that are often harmful to human health. They are sometimes called persistent organic pollutants (POPs) because they take many years to break down once they enter the environment.

Serious problems related to child development and reproductive and immune system health are sometimes associated with dioxins. They disrupt hormonal balance and are linked to cancer.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), dioxins can stay in the body for long periods of time because of their chemically unstable properties and their ability to be absorbed and stored by adipose tissue. They are believed to stay in the body for about 7 to 11 years.

Dioxins tend to accumulate in the food chain and enter the human body, especially in animal fats and drinking water. They are found all over the world and it is not easy to eliminate them.

Many countries are trying to reduce the industrial production of dioxins. Dioxins are no longer produced or used commercially in the United States, but it is possible that dioxins may be found in other products, especially herbicides.

In recent years, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been working to drastically reduce the use of dioxins and their release into the environment. Although dioxin levels have declined over the past few decades, recent exposures are related to levels from decades ago, and naturally occurring dioxin levels remain low.

This article will discuss the health effects, sources, types, risks and more of exposure to dioxins.


Dioxins may be harmful to human health. They have been linked to cancer, neurological diseases and non-cancer diseases such as diabetes, liver disease, heart disease, birth defects and skin problems. They can be absorbed into the body and distributed throughout the body through the digestive tract (from the food we eat) and the respiratory tract (from breathing), as well as through the skin.

How they affect the body depends on many different factors, including:

  • how much goes into the body
  • How Dioxins Enter the Human Body
  • how much exposure

For example, workers who are chronically exposed to dioxins at work have an increased chance of developing cancer. Occupational exposure can cause all types of cancer and cancer death (death). Although more rare, dioxin exposure in the environment has also been linked to certain types of cancer.

The EPA has classified dioxins as probable carcinogens (carcinogenic chemicals), but there is insufficient evidence that low-level environmental exposures cause cancer. One dioxin, specifically 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD), is considered a known carcinogen, while all other dioxins are considered probable .

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Short-term exposure to dioxins can also lead to a skin condition called chloracne, which causes small skin lesions and patchy darkened areas of the skin.

The researchers also found that developing fetuses and newborns were most vulnerable to the effects of dioxins. Dioxin exposure in the environment is associated with birth defects and increased rates of miscarriage (spontaneous miscarriage), which have been demonstrated in animal studies.

Human research on the effects of environmental dioxins is limited, but some evidence has emerged that dioxin-related substances may cause miscarriage, stillbirth, preterm birth, fetal growth problems, and low birth weight. Other dioxin studies have not shown these effects.


Dioxins come from many sources. They are ubiquitous and are microscopic particles that people cannot see.


Most of the world’s exposure to dioxins comes from food — mostly animal products such as dairy, meat and seafood. Once in the body, it dissolves in fat and is not easily broken down.


Dioxins can enter drinking water. According to the EPA, this can come from different sources, including:

  • Air emissions from waste incineration and other combustion into lakes and reservoirs
  • Sediment from air to soil into surface water for drinking
  • Chemical Industry Wastewater Discharge


Dioxins are primarily a product of industrial processes. They are released into the air through different practices, including incineration and waste incineration. They can also form from natural resources such as forest fires and volcanoes.

The EPA has listed dioxins as one of the 30 hazardous air pollutants that pose the greatest health threat in urban areas. Although there are hundreds of different forms, only the 2,3,7,8 substituted tetra- to octa-chlorinated dioxins and furans pose a threat to human health.


Some people are concerned about dioxins in tampons and other menstrual hygiene products. In the past, manufacturers used chlorine to bleach these products, which raised dioxin levels. However, the companies that make these products no longer use chlorine, which means the levels of dioxins in tampons are far lower than they used to be.

The study found that dioxins were detectable in tampons. Interestingly, the levels in tampons are much lower than the daily dietary intake of dioxins.

Water bottle

In the past, it was believed that plastic water bottles contained dioxins, but experts have since dispelled these myths. However, some plastic water bottles may contain bisphenol A (BPA) or phthalates, which have been linked to other health problems, including hormonal, endocrine (the system that regulates hormones) and reproductive problems.

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Types of

There are hundreds of different types of dioxins, but according to the EPA, the three main families are:

  • Polychlorinated Dibenzodioxins (PDD)
  • Polychlorinated dibenzofurans (PCDF)
  • Certain polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)


Polychlorinated dibenzodioxins (also known as PCDD and CDD) are toxic compounds. These occur naturally in volcanoes and forest fires, and people are exposed to them through the air. Industries can also generate PCDD as an impurity and by-product of their processes.

People are less likely to be exposed to high levels of PCDD that can cause serious health effects. High levels of PCCD from occupational exposure can lead to chloroacne (rare outbreaks of blackheads, cysts, and nodules) on the face and upper body.


Like PCDD, PCDF is the result of an industrial process. They also tend to appear with PCDD. Their exposure occurs by inhalation and skin contact, mainly in industrial occupations.


PCBs are highly toxic industrial compounds. They are associated with serious health risks from prolonged or repeated exposure to small amounts of the substance. They are found in pesticides, coolants and lubricants used in electronic equipment. Fortunately, they were discontinued in the United States in 1977 due to their harmful effects.


The health risks of dioxins are associated with many different health conditions. Circumstances associated with dioxin exposure include:

  • all types of cancer
  • Reproductive problems, including decreased fertility and low sperm count
  • Developmental Problems and Learning Disabilities
  • birth defect
  • abortion
  • Immune system suppression (when the body is unable to fight off bacteria due to reduced white blood cells or antibodies)
  • Endometriosis (the lining of the uterus growing outside the uterus)
  • Diabetes (inability to control blood sugar levels)
  • lung problems
  • skin disease
  • ischemic heart disease (reduced blood supply to the heart muscle)

Symptoms of Dioxin Poisoning

Symptoms of dioxin poisoning can range from mild to severe, depending on the length of exposure. They also vary depending on the type of dioxin a person is exposed to.

High levels of dioxin exposure are rare but can occur in the event of a major disaster or accident. Symptoms of high levels of exposure may include:

  • general malaise (feeling sick)
  • Chloric acid
  • Hyperpigmentation (skin discoloration)
  • Phlegm (phlegm) and cough
  • Paresthesia (tingling or numbness) in the arms or legs
  • Hypertriglyceridemia (increased triglyceride levels)
  • Increased risk of cancer death

Low-level exposure to dioxins is more common. Almost everyone has been exposed to these. The most severe low-level exposures affect people who work in or near dioxin production, including in chemical plants, incinerators, and where herbicides and pesticides are used.

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Signs of low-level sulfur dioxide exposure may include:

  • headache
  • malaise
  • skin lesions
  • Elevated liver enzymes (indicating inflammation or liver damage)
  • Lung defects (lung and breathing problems)
  • Neurological dysfunction (abnormal functioning of a part of the body due to nerve or muscle damage), including memory loss

Prevention of Dioxin Poisoning

According to the World Health Organization, recommendations to reduce dioxin exposure in food are:

  • Choose lean meats and fish
  • Remove fat from meat during meal preparation
  • Changes in diet to reduce high exposure to specific foods
  • Choose fruits, vegetables and whole grains over meat and seafood

Burning waste in the backyard should be avoided as it produces high levels of dioxins. Sometimes exposure is higher than industrial incineration. Since pollutants from backyard burning are released on the ground, they are more likely to pose a threat to human health.


Dioxins are environmental pollutants that are harmful to human health. Manufacturers in the U.S. no longer produce dioxins, but these compounds are still present in the environment and in the food chain.

Exposure to dioxins, especially at work, increases the risk of cancer and other serious health conditions. You can avoid dioxin exposure by eating a varied diet, reducing meat fat or eating lean meat and fish, and avoiding backyard burning.

VigorTip words

Prolonged exposure to dioxins is worrying. However, the exposure that most people experience in their daily lives is unlikely to cause serious adverse health effects.

If you believe you have been exposed to dioxins at work and may experience symptoms of exposure, you should contact your healthcare provider to discuss your risk for any related illnesses.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What does dioxin do to the body?

    Exposure to dioxins has many different adverse health effects, including an increased risk of cancer. Fortunately, most people in the United States are not exposed to enough dioxins in their daily lives so they are not at risk for any serious health conditions.

  • How to deal with dioxin poisoning?

    Dioxin exposure is rare and is usually associated with prolonged high levels of exposure. High-level exposure events include major accidents or disasters. Low levels of occupational exposure are associated with mild dioxin poisoning.

  • What are the main sources of dioxins?

    The main source of dioxins is the incineration of waste from various sources. Backyard waste incineration also releases large amounts of dioxins.