Have you heard of Dioxin? It is earmarked as the No. 1 human carcinogen, a substance that causes cancer in the living tissue. Dioxin is a group of toxic chemical compounds that share certain chemical structures and biological characteristics. They are made up of carbon, oxygen, hydrogen and chlorine atoms and in total there are 75 different chlorinated molecules of dibenzo-p-dioxin and 135 chlorinated dibenzofurans. These are all in the dioxin family.             

Different dioxins have different level of toxicity that is determined through the number and positions of chlorine atoms in the dioxin molecules. The most toxic compound from this group is 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin better known as TCDD which is often used as benchmark to measure the level of toxicity of other dioxin compounds.

In today’s world, the primary cause of dioxin release is man-made from daily burning. For example, exhaust from vehicles, forest fires, incomplete burning of household trash, chlorine bleaching of pulp and paper, production of pesticides and herbicides and dismantling and recycling electronic products are among human activities that contribute to the pollution of dioxins into the air and the environment.

However, dioxins are also found naturally in the environment as a result of ancient forest fires and volcanic eruptions. During the incineration process, dioxins are released into the air, contaminating the soil at the burning area which might flow into nearby water sources.

As a result, dioxin can be found in the soils, sediments and waters. And when entering the food chain, it can remain in fatty tissues for a very long time due to its chemical stability. Those that consume meat in their diet are more susceptible to dioxin exposure as produce such as beef, pork, poultry and fish can store dioxins in their fat tissues and later be consumed by consumers. In a report, it shows that North America’s main contamination of dioxin is on meat products and dairy products.

These dioxins are called Persistent Organic Pollutant (POP), which is an organic compound that is resistant to environmental degradation through chemical, biological and photolytic processes, thus the bioaccumulation of this pollutant will cause potential adverse impact to the human health and the environment.

TCDD for example is a known cancer-causing substance to humans. With its bio-accumulative characteristics and stable chemical properties, it takes around 7 to 11 years for dioxins to break into its half-life (the time taken for the radioactivity of a specified isotope to fall to half its original value).

The most well-known case of dioxins poisoning happened in 2004, where the Ukrainian presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko claimed that he is poisoned with dioxins which caused him to suffer from chloracne and disfigured facial features. It was later when they traced for dioxin in his blood and was tested to be 100,000 picogram (pg) per gram of blood whereas the average level in a population is to be between 10 to 45 pg per gram. That’s over 2200 times more than the average level!

Text Box: Picture 1: Dioxin poisoning of Viktor Yushchenko | Credit: NBC News

Picture 1 shows how harmful DIOXIN is to our body! Over accumulation of dioxin in our body system can disturb the reproductive and developmental system, damage the immune system and interfere with hormones and ultimately leading to cancer.

Before the application of strict regulations on dioxins, women had a greater chance to be exposed to dioxins as chlorine bleaching is used in producing tampons and sanitary pads, which released high levels of dioxins. It was only in 2001 that dioxins were banned due to its capability to cause cancer in ovaries, bladder, breasts and uterus. And now, although dioxin can still be found in sanitary pad, the FDA has claimed that its is 0.2 percent lower than the maximum monthly intake.

Alert: High dosage of dioxins can cause a number of health problems regardless of age, even infants in the wombs is exposed! Pregnant mommies and breast-feeding mommies are advised to be aware of the absorption of high dose of dioxins as it can be transferred through the placenta and breast milk.

To name a few, the effects of dioxins poisoning can cause skin lesions and alter the liver function, cause infertility, hormonal imbalance and multiple menstrual disorders.

If you have not heard of DIOXIN, you should!

Picture 2: EPA vs FDA | Credit: Shycart

Picture 2 shows that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and FDA have different opinions when it comes to the chemical substance, dioxin. As mentioned earlier on in the article, dioxin has bio-accumulative properties which would ultimately have harmful effects to the human body. Hence, the EPA shares that any levels of dioxin should not be acceptable. Meanwhile, the FDA disagrees and states that low-levels of exposure to dioxin is fine as we are all exposed to it through the air and water.

With all that said, even though dioxin can be found in the environment, and there is no way of preventing low exposure of dioxin, we still have the decision to choose products that don’t release dioxin.

Dioxin is not usually added into products as an ingredient, but 1,4-dioxane forms as a by-product during the manufacturing process of certain cosmetic ingredients. These ingredients include certain detergents, foaming agents, emulsifiers and solvents identifiable as:

  • PEG
  • Polyethylene
  • Polyethylene glycol
  • Polyoxyethylene
  • -eth-
  • -oxynol-

Choosing products that does not release dioxin is not impossible, we encourage consumers to make informed decision when making purchases, to protect yourself, your loved ones and the environment.