Dioxin is nearly impossible to avoid, as women exposed to it pass it on to fetuses in the womb, and both breast milk and formula have been shown to contain it.
Research done has shown that a nursing infant ingests an amount 77 times higher than what the EPA has proposed as safe exposure. Adults are exposed to 1,200 times more dioxin than the EPA suggests is safe.
According to Inhabitots:
"Because dioxin is such a common pollutant -- it's a waste product of incineration, smelting, chlorine bleaching and pesticides manufacturing -- its health effects are well documented ...
[S]tudies have shown that ongoing low-level exposure can result in heart disease, diabetes, cancer, endometriosis, early menopause and reduced testosterone and thyroid hormones."
Dioxin, which was a toxic component of the Agent Orange used to defoliate jungles during the Vietnam War, is easily one of the most dangerous chemicals known to man.
In the United States, chlorinated dioxins form as a byproduct of industry, particularly smelting, chlorine paper bleaching and pesticide manufacturing, as well as through waste incineration. The chemical is pretty much everywhere in the environment, and because it breaks down very slowly it easily accumulates in the food chain, where it’s especially prominent in animal fat.
Meat, dairy products, fish and shellfish are all common routes of exposure for adults, and even unborn babies are exposed to the chemical while still in the womb. Dioxin also exists in breast milk and formula, which means infants are not only born with dioxin in their bodies, but continue to receive a steady supply of it after birth.
Infants, Adults Ingesting Far More Dioxin than Safe
Ingesting any dioxin at all is far from “safe,” but the amounts infants are being exposed to daily is even higher than the level the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) set for endocrine and immune system safety -- 77 times higher at that, according to Environmental Working Group (EWG) research.
Since food is currently the primary route of exposure to dioxin for most, and children eat more food, pound-per-pound, compared to adults, experts say children aged 1-10 get the highest dietary exposures.
Further, the general public is exposed to up to 1,200 times more dioxin than the EPA says is safe on a daily basis, according to EWG. In an EWG letter to the EPA Science Advisory Board, it was even noted that “a 130-pound adult who eats a cheeseburger and drinks a glass of milk can consume a third of EPA’s proposed safe daily dose of dioxin and dioxin-like compounds… ”
EPA safety limits for dioxin, meanwhile, have been in the works for nearly 30 years but have been pushed back time and time again due to chemical and defense industry pressure. It’s been so long since the EPA’s initial safety limit proposal that EWG believes the levels need to be tightened even more, given the increasing evidence that dioxin is more dangerous than scientists initially thought.
In July, the EPA finally met to discuss issues related to dioxin toxicity, and public comments on the EPA’s proposal are being accepted until September 20.
What are the Health Risks of Dioxin?
Dioxins are highly toxic and have been linked to so many serious health problems it boggles the mind (the infamous and dangerous polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are also in the dioxin family):
- Reproductive and developmental problems
- Immune system damage and disorders
- Heart disease
- Early menopause, reduced testosterone and thyroid hormones and other hormone problems
- Abnormalities of the skin, teeth and nails
In early life, or while still in the womb, dioxin may also cause neurological changes that impact hearing, psychomotor function, cognition and gender-specific behaviors, along with damage to reproductive organs and hormonal changes.
“Dioxins have been characterized by EPA as likely human carcinogens and are anticipated to increase the risk of cancer at background levels of exposure.
Dioxin levels in the environment have been declining since the early seventies and have been the subject of a number of federal and state regulations and clean-up actions; however, current exposures levels still remain a concern.”
What Can You Do?
For starters, you can have a voice in this federal decision by making a public comment on the EPA’s new dioxin proposal. Along with low safety limits being established, the EPA needs to reduce these types of toxic industrial emissions so dioxin pollution can be curbed at its source.
Next, be aware that your biggest source of exposure to dioxin is likely through meat, dairy products and seafood. I recommend cutting out virtually all seafood from your diet, unless you can verify that it is very low in contaminants.
But because pollution, from dioxin and other compounds, is so widespread in the world’s waterways, this is the exception rather than the norm. Instead, opt for an animal-based source of omega-3 fat, such as krill oil, which can supply you with the health benefits of seafood without the contamination risks.
You can also help cut down on your dioxin exposure to some extent by trimming the fat off your meat and opting for leaner cuts, since dioxin tends to accumulate in animal fat.
Also, dioxin is commonly found in plastics that are made with polyvinyl chloride (PVC). This is one of the reasons why you should avoid using containers that are made from cloudy plastic (such as plastic milk jugs). You may also be able to help reduce your exposure, and certainly make a statement with your wallet, by avoiding products that are bleached using chlorine and foods that contain pesticides (both industries are major contributors to dioxin pollution).
Some common products that are safer in their unbleached form include coffee filters, tampons, sanitary napkins, disposable diapers, bathroom tissue, paper towels and so on. To find foods that are free from pesticides, look for organic produce and, especially, organic meat, dairy and other animal products.
One quick reminder for moms and moms-to-be, even though dioxin is found in breast milk, it’s also found in formula, and breast milk is still the safest, healthiest food you can feed your baby, by far. So while you should do all you can to reduce your exposure to chemicals in your daily life, please feel secure in the fact that breast milk remains the purest form of food for your newborn.