Bergen 2014

Dioxin, a persistent organic pollutant, or POP, may be one of the most toxic man-made chemicals in the environment. The history of the scientific study of dioxin and its regulation illustrates the interplay of science and values. Dioxin is a colorless crystal made up of oxygen, hydrogen, carbon, and chlorine. It is classified as an organic compound because it contains carbon. About 75 types of dioxin and dioxin like compounds are known; they are distinguished from one another by the arrangement and number of chlorine atoms in the molecule. Dioxin is not normally manufactured intentionally but is a by-product of chemical reactions, including the combustion of compounds containing chlorine in the production of herbicides.16 In the United States, there are a variety of sources for dioxin like compounds (specifically, chlorinated dibenzo-p- dioxin, or CDD, and chlorinated dibenzofurans, or CDF).


These compounds are emitted into the air through such processes as incineration of municipal waste (the major source), incineration of medical waste, burning of gasoline and diesel fuels in vehicles, burning of wood as a fuel, and refining of metals such as copper. The good news is that releases of CDDs and CDFs decreased about 75% from 1987 to 1995. However, we are only beginning to understand the many sources of dioxin emissions into the air, water, and land and the linkages and rates of transfer from dominant airborne transport to deposition in water, soil, and the biosphere.


In too many cases, the amounts of dioxins emitted are based more on expert opinion than on high-quality data, or even on limited data. Studies of animals exposed to dioxin suggest that some fish, birds, and other animals are sensitive to even small amounts. As a result, it can cause widespread damage to wildlife, including birth defects and death. However, the concentration at which it poses a hazard to human health is still controversial