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Dioxin: Health Effects
Table of Contents
Background and Overview
Releases to the Atmosphere
Dioxin in the Environment
Dioxin in the Food Supply
Health Effects
Regulations & Policies
Dioxin Prevention
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Dioxin and Health
Describes health problems caused by dioxin exposure, including chloracne, cancer, behavioral effects...

Dioxin is a toxic compound shown to have adverse health effects on humans and wildlife. Even low levels of dioxin exposure can have carcinogenic, reproductive, and immunotoxic effects on animals. While humans can be exposed to dioxin through occupational accidents or inhalation, the major source of dioxin exposure is the food supply. Since dioxins are stored in animal fats and milks, the compound is able to bioaccumulate in the food chain. After conducting years of research on both humans and laboratory animals, researchers have discovered significant health problems associated with dioxin exposure.
  • In 1997, the International Agency for Research on Cancer upgraded dioxin from a "probable" to a "known human carcinogen." According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency's draft report on dioxin's health effects, levels of dioxin-like compounds found in the general population may cause a lifetime cancer risk as high as one in 1,000.
  • Dioxin has been shown to cause immune system impairment, reducing the body's ability to fight off diseases. Immune system impairment caused by dioxin is most significant in children. In the human body, dioxin attacks the B and T cells, which are both responsible for fighting off foreign germs within the body.
  • Dioxin is associated with learning disorders and behavioral effects. The underlying cause of these learning disorders may be the disruption of the thyroid hormone. This hormone plays a role in normal behavioral and intellectual development. Learning disorders associated with dioxin are attention deficit hyperactivity and language disorders.
  • Chloracne is a skin disorder that occurs mainly through high levels of occupational dioxin exposure. Symptoms of chloracne include skin eruptions, cysts, and pustules.
  • Mothers can pass on dioxins to children, both prenatally and during infancy. Since dioxins are fat-loving compounds, breast milk and fatty tissues can have higher levels of dioxins. Despite the possibility of dioxin exposure through breastfeeding, the EPA believes "the benefits of breastfeeding far outweigh potential risks."
  • Several reproductive problems can arise due to dioxin exposure. Endometriosis, lowered sperm count, and decreased testosterone levels have all been shown to be a side effect of dioxin exposure.
  • Diabetes is another disease that can result from dioxin exposure.

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The Dioxin Topic Hub™ was developed by:

Northeast Waste Management Officials' Association
Northeast Waste Management Officials' Association
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Hub Last Updated: 10/8/2013