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Dioxins are a family of chemically and structurally related compounds. They are environmental pollutants that are also very toxic to human health. Dioxins can enter the environment from natural sources such as volcano eruptions and forest fires. They can also be released during industrial processes, including smelting, chlorine bleaching of paper pulp and the manufacturing of some herbicides and pesticides. According to the World Health Organization, uncontrolled waste incinerators are often the most prominent source of dioxin release due to incomplete burning of solid and hospital waste. WHO fact sheet on Dioxins

Dioxin Exposure

Dioxins make their way up the food chain and expose humans through contaminated soils, sediments and food. Many dioxins are spread through consumption of animal products. Once they enter the human body, dioxins are stored in fat and stay in the body for years. Dioxins are often first introduced to our food supply in animal feed. Many countries monitor food for dioxins and are able to prevent widespread harm. Environmental controls in the United States have significantly reduced the introduction of new industrial-based exposure pathways to dioxins, but there is still work to do in mitigating sources and the health effects of exposure.

Health Effects of Dioxins

  • Skin lesions
  • Liver damage
  • Impairment of the immune system, the developing nervous system, the endocrine system and reproductive functions
  • Cancer

Preventing Dioxin Exposure

According to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, you can follow these steps to prevent dioxin exposure:

  • Remove skin from fish and chicken
  • Select cuts of meat that are naturally lean, or trim visible fat
  • When catching your own fish, check local fishing advisories, as there may be consumption limits for particular kinds of fish, in particular bodies of water where local contamination has occurred
  • Use fat-free or low-fat milk and use butter in moderation