Nature is a large chemical laboratory, where a variety of compositions and decompositions take place. One such composition formed is of dioxins and furans; these are some of the most lethal chemicals known to science.

Polychlorinated dibenzodioxins (dioxins) and polychlorinated dibenzofurans (furans) are the two extremely hazardous chemical compounds that are part of the alleged dirty-dozen and are also known as Persistent Organic Pollutants.

These exceedingly persistent environmental pollutants have a strong attraction for sediments with a high probability of accumulating themselves in biological tissues.

Every animal and human in Canada is exposed to these chemical substances through air, water, soil, sediments and foods.

Sources of Poisonous Air

The sources of these toxic compounds are air, water and soil. Consequently, their existence in the environment leads them to be found in some food items. Dioxins and furans are major by-products of industrial practices, but are also produced by natural methods, for example, volcanic eruptions and forest fires.

Other sources of contamination through dioxins could be the aftermath of manufacturing procedures such as smelting, chlorine, decolourising of paper pulp and the manufacturing of some herbicides and pesticides.

Hence, individuals are exposed to dioxins and furans through industrial mishaps, contaminated food, solid waste incineration and road traffic; and these chemicals can be found in the environment across the world.

A herd of cows scavenge for food amid hazardous waste and toxic garbage on highly contaminated land at the biggest and most polluted landfill site on the holiday resort island of Bali Indonesia.

A herd of cows scavenge for food amid hazardous waste and toxic garbage on highly contaminated land at the biggest and most polluted landfill site on the holiday resort island of Bali Indonesia.

Toxic Effects of Dioxin and Furans

Dioxins and furans are dangerous to the well-being of living beings. These persistent chemicals pose a broad range of adverse reactions. The following are the harmful effects of dioxins and furans on mortals.

  • Skin lesions, such as chloracne
  • Irregular darkening of the skin
  • Liver functional issues
  • Weakening of the immune system
  • Weakening of the endocrine system
  • Improper functioning of reproductive system
  • Causes problem in development of nervous system
  • Leads to cancer

These chemicals are omnipresent in the environment; hence, everyone has background exposure and some amount of dioxins in the body, further leading to body burden.

The factors that have led to health effects are- the way a human is exposed to air, water, food, etc.; for how long an individual was under cover of dioxins and furans; and the individual vulnerability.

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Human beings can be exposed to dioxins and furans through eating contaminated food. Source: NRDC

Prevention is Better than Cure

As suggested, the proper incineration of contaminated chemical materials is the best possible procedure available to prevent and regulate the exposure to dioxins and furans.

Another method to control human exposure to dioxins could be by taking strict measures to reduce the development of these toxic chemical compounds. However, this is the responsibility of the National Governments.

Furthermore, a very significant cause through which people are exposed to dioxins is food; majorly meat, dairy products, fish, and shellfish. And the ideal way to deal with it is to decrease or remove your consumption of meat and dairy products by adopting a vegan diet. Also, you should avoid burning garbage and wood used in fireplaces or stoves; keep yourself and your family away from passive smoking.

Efforts by the Government 

Health Canada partakes with other Government of Canada Departments and Agencies, along with the Provinces and Territories have developed Canada-wide regulations and guidelines to screen and eradicate the release of dioxins and furans into the atmosphere through industrial processes.

Monitoring

Environment Canada’s reference method for sampling semi-volatile compounds in air is commonly known as Modified Method 5 (MM5).  The procedures used are detailed in the following reference methods:

Sampling

  • Reference Method for Source Testing – Measurement of Releases of Selected Semi
  • Volatile Organic Compounds from Stationary Sources EPS 1-RM-2 June 1989.

Analytical

  • Methodology for Organic Analysis – Environment Canada, December 1989.
  • A Method for the Analysis of Polychlorinated Dibenzo-para-Dioxins (PCDD’s), Polychlorinated Dibenzofurans (PCDF’s),

The US EPA’s reference method is Method 23 – Determination of Polychlorinated Dibenzo-p-Dioxins and Polychlorinated Dibenzofurans From Stationary Sources.

An air sample is withdrawn from the gas stream isokinetically and collected in the sample probe, on a glass fibre filter, and on a packed column of adsorbent material.  The sample cannot be separated into a particle vapour fraction.  The PCDD’s and PCDF’s are extracted from the sample, separated by high resolution gas chromatography, and measured by high resolution mass spectrometry.

Breathe in Some Fresh Air

The presence of dioxins and furans in the air has led to significant health hazards. Hence, along with the government, it is our duty too, to preserve and protect the environment. Everybody has to do their bit for the environment and defence of their health; you can do your part with the assistance of A.Lanfranco & Associates Inc. Contact us for air quality monitoring services in BC.