What Are Dioxins?

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines dioxins as “a family of structurally and chemically related” poisonous compounds. Dioxins are present in the environment worldwide. (2)

Dioxins include:

  • TCDD: 2,3,7,8 tetrachlorodibenzo para dioxin, the chemical name for dioxin.
  • PCDD: polychlorinated dibenzo para dioxin.
  • PCDF: polychlorinated dibenzofuran.
  • PCB: polychlorinated biphenyl. (3)

Sources of Dioxin Contamination

Dioxins are persistent environmental pollutants — they remain in the environment for years after release. They are especially prevalent in the food we eat. (4)

Human activities are a primary source of dioxin contamination in the environment. These activities include:

  • Chemical waste being released into water sources.
  • Dismantling electronics.
  • Fuel emissions.
  • Incineration of waste, either commercial or municipal.
  • Production of pesticides, herbicides, and chemicals.
  • Recycling electronic products. (5) (6) (7)

WHO notes that dioxins are a byproduct of the following manufacturing processes:

  • Chlorine bleaching of paper pulp.
  • Smelting.
  • Manufacturing of herbicides and pesticides. (8)

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says dioxins enter the air from combustion processes, meaning the burning or incineration of waste or fuels. Fuels that produce dioxin emissions include oil, wood, and coal. (9) Toxic emissions released into the air may be transported on air currents miles away from where incineration occurs.

Man holding chest

Harmful Effects of Dioxins

People are usually exposed to dioxins through ingestion or inhalation. Regardless of the source of contamination, dioxin exposure has harmful effects on humans.

Once exposed, dioxins begin to accumulate in the body tissues. Over time this can seriously impact the body’s systems including:

  • Immune system suppression.
  • Endocrine system disruption.
  • Increased risk of diabetes.
  • Increased risk of heart disease.
  • Nervous-system disorders.
  • Reproductive and developmental problems. (10) (11)

More specific health risks include:

  • Cancer.
  • Ischemic heart disease.
  • Lung problems.
  • Type 2 diabetes.
  • Birth defects.
  • Miscarriage.
  • Endometriosis.
  • Decreased fertility.
  • Reduced sperm count.
  • Low testosterone.
  • Liver damage.
  • Developmental problems in children.
  • Learning disabilities.
  • Chloracne, a skin disease with severe acne-like pimples. (12) (13)

Health risks can depend upon when someone is exposed, as well as the level and duration of the exposure. (14) When dioxins get into you, “they last a long time because of their chemical stability and their ability to be absorbed by fat tissue, where they are then stored in the body. Their half-life in the body is estimated to be 7 to 11 years.” (15)

Individuals who are at greatest risk of suffering health problems from exposure to dioxins include:

  • Women of child-bearing age, especially when pregnant.
  • Residents of communities with contaminated soil and food.
  • Employees of incineration plants.
  • Employees of hazardous waste sites.
  • Workers in the pulp and paper industry.
  • Farmers who use pesticides and herbicides. (16) (17)

Successful Litigation Is Possible

Litigations against giant companies who do harm to the environment and communities have been successful. Success takes a team of experienced and knowledgeable attorneys dedicated to their client’s interests.

The Weitz & Luxenberg legal team successfully secured $423 million for those harmed by drinking water contaminated with MTBE. The contamination affected 153 public water systems nationally.

Another case was the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. In this case, Weitz & Luxenberg attorneys helped negotiate an $18.7 billion settlement for Gulf Coast communities affected by this disaster. This represents the largest environmental settlement in the history of the United States. Money from the settlement covers economic damages, restoration, and natural resource damages.

Have you been exposed to dioxins as a result of industrial polluters? Contact us now for a free evaluation.

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Current water contamination litigation being handled by Weitz & Luxenberg include cases in Merrimack, New Hampshire, and Hoosick Falls and Petersburgh, New York. In these cases local environments and communities have suffered harm from large corporations whose business practices have been careless or negligent.

hazardous waste barrels in front of factory

National Emissions Standards

The EPA established national emission standards in 2005 for hazardous air pollutants, including dioxins. The standards apply to commercial onsite incinerators, kilns, boilers, and hydrochloric acid production furnaces. The unit of measure used is dioxin/furan (ng TEQ/dscm).

The standard for emissions limits for existing sources is:

  • Incinerators: 0.20 or 0.40 and temperature control <400°F at APCD intel.
  • Cement kilns: 0.20 or 0.40 and temperature control <400°F at APCD inlet.
  • Lightweight aggregate kilns: 0.20 or rapid quench below 400°F at kiln exit.
  • Solid fuel fired boilers: CO or HC and DRE standard as a surrogate.
  • Liquid fuel-fired boilers: 0.40 for dry APCD sources; CO or HC and DRE standard as a surrogate for others.
  • Hydrochloric acid production furnaces: CO or HC and DRE standard as surrogate. (18)

The standard for emissions limits for new or reconstructed sources is the same except for:

  • Incinerators: 0.11 for dry APCD and/or WHB sources; 0.20 for other sources.
  • Hydrochloric acid production furnaces: CO or THC and DRE standard as a surrogate. (19)

Dioxin in Water Supplies

Dioxin contamination is not limited to air; it gets into water supplies as well.

Communities need to be vigilant about the threat dioxin contamination poses and work together with water suppliers to monitor and control local resources. They need to identify the sources of this contamination and hold the companies responsible for any harm they cause.

“Drinking water can contain dioxins if it has been contaminated by chemical waste from factories, or by other industrial processes,” according to Medical News Today. (20) Contamination can occur when companies discharge chemical wastewater or emissions from manufacturing or processing plants. (21)

Under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), the EPA established a maximum contamination level for dioxin. The level for dioxin (2,3,7,8-TCDD) in drinking water is 0.00000003 mg/L, and for polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) it is 0.0005 mg/L. (22)

Weak Regulations

The EPA faces criticism with respect to its regulation responsibilities under the SDWA. Some highlight the weaknesses in the EPA’s standard, while others point to lack of enforcement of those standards.

One nonprofit advocacy group for safe drinking water is the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). According to the NRDC report, “many rules need to be made more stringent…numerous deficiencies in other EPA drinking water rules, require strengthening changes for the sake of public health.” (23)

Additionally, NRDC notes that while the EPA sets standards, it often leaves responsibility for enforcement to states. (24)

Suburban neighborhood

Communities Have a Right-to-Know

Manufacturers processing or using hazardous chemicals are required by law to report environmental releases of those chemicals, annually. (25)

A list of reportable chemicals can be found at the Toxic Release Inventory (TSI). (26)

Another helpful tool is the annual Consumer Confidence Reports (CCR). These reports help keep suppliers and their communities aware of local water quality. The EPA requires suppliers to test for contaminants in local water supplies on a regular basis and provide that information to their consumers.