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Toxic Tuesdays

Dioxin in Food

Toxic Tuesdays

CHEJ highlights several toxic chemicals and the communities fighting to keep their citizens safe from harm.

Dioxin in Food

Dioxins are a group of chemically related compounds formed as a byproduct of industrial processes such as water treatment, paper manufacturing, and waste incineration. If dioxins are not properly captured and stored, they can be released into the environment. Once released into the air, dioxins can travel thousands of miles. They can also attach to soil particles on the ground and sediment in bodies of water. Because dioxins are slow to decompose, they can persist in the environment for years after being released. One of the reasons this is a problem is because dioxins bioaccumulate in animal tissues, meaning if fish or livestock become exposed to dioxins, they accumulate in the animals. Then, when humans eat these contaminated animal products, we can be exposed to high levels of dioxins. This makes dioxins in food a particularly dangerous and widespread method of dioxin exposure.

Dioxin exposure is associated with a wide variety of health problems including a skin disease called chloracne, liver damage, thyroid dysfunction, diabetes, and immune system dysfunction. The International Agency for Research on Cancer has determined that several types of dioxins cause cancer. It is suspected that dioxins may also cause reproductive damage, birth defects, and miscarriages because it can be passed from a pregnant person to their fetus. Because of their small size and the importance of proper development, dioxin exposure is particularly dangerous for infants and children.

With these serious health effects, dioxin exposure through eating contaminated meat, dairy, and fish is a concern. Washing and cooking food does not remove the dioxins from them. Individuals can protect themselves by eating healthy diets that prioritize vegetables, fruits, and whole grains while decreasing meat consumption. (This is the kind of diet you would eat by following the Food Pyramid). When eating meat, choose products low in fat where animals have been grain or grass fed. If you catch your own seafood, be sure to check local fishing advisories.

While these steps can help keep us safe, the federal government should do more to regulate our food supply and ensure it is free of dioxins. In 2003 the National Academies of Science released a report on dioxins in the food supply and recommended strategies for reducing risk of dioxin exposure through food. These included interrupting the dioxin cycling that occurs in large-scale livestock husbandry, improving coordination between agencies that monitor food for dioxins, and specifically protecting people of childbearing age because of the risk to fetuses and newborns. Implementing these strategies through regulations and public education campaigns would go a long way toward protecting people from dioxin exposure through food.

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Cyanide

Cyanide is a chemical usually found in compounds with other chemicals. Cyanide compounds can be

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Categories
Toxic Tuesdays

Dioxin

Toxic Tuesdays

CHEJ highlights several toxic chemicals and the communities fighting to keep their citizens safe from harm.

Dioxin

Dioxins are a group of toxic compounds that share similar and distinct chemical structures. They are mainly byproducts of industrial processes, such as waste incineration. In 1979, the EPA banned products containing Polychlorinated Bihphenyls (PCBs), which is a chemical included under the term dioxin. However, dioxins were a major issue before the US began implementing regulations. Since dioxins break down extremely slowly, toxins that were released long ago are still being released into the environment.

Today, most people are exposed to dioxins through consuming animal products that have accumulated dioxins over time. Exposure to these toxins in humans can cause cancer, type 2 diabetes, ischemic heart disease, infertility in adults, impairment of the immune system, and skin lesions. The following measures can help decrease your risk to dioxin exposure: removing skin from chicken and fish, trimming visible fat from meats, and checking local fishing advisories when catching your own seafood. Learn more about the health risks and safety measures regarding dioxin here.

The San Jacinto Waste Pits is a Superfund site in Harris County, Texas that is packed with dioxin and other toxic chemicals. Hurricane Harvey hit Harris County in 2017 and led to large damages and erosion throughout the region, causing the San Jacinto Waste Pits site to begin leaking toxic chemicals, such as dioxins into the surrounding communities.

CHEJ has worked with the Texas Health and Environment Alliance (THEA) and the San Jacinto River Coalition in order to help bring awareness to their nearby Superfund sites and the damages that hurricanes have caused. In 2017, THEA and the San Jacinto River Coalition succeeded in bringing attention to the waste pits and the EPA announced plans that they would remove the toxic contents from the pits entirely through a $115 million site remediation by late 2021.

In addition to THEA, residents in Wausau, WI living immediately adjacent to former Wauleco window manufacturing sites who were concerned about dioxin contamination formed Citizens for a Clean Wausau. Recent testing in a park found high levels of dioxin but the state dismissed the results. However, the state had to correct itself when CHEJ’s science director wrote a letter to the group pointing out that the state’s risk assessment failed to include dioxin’s cancer risk. Given dioxin’s high potency as a carcinogen, this was a major oversight. The group continues to fight for more testing. Earlier this year, the leader of the group ran for and won a seat on the city council, giving the group a great inside/outside approach to getting what they want. CHEJ continues to provide technical and organizing support to Wausau’s residents.

Learn about more toxics

Cyanide

Cyanide is a chemical usually found in compounds with other chemicals. Cyanide compounds can be

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