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Dioxins: Sources of environmental load and human exposure
Chair of Ecological Chemistry and Geochemistry, University of Bayreuth, Bayreuth, Germany .ORCID iD: 0000-0003-1496-9245
Chair of Ecological Chemistry and Geochemistry, University of Bayreuth, Bayreuth, Germany.
Procter & Gamble GmbH, Schwalbach am Taunus, Germany.
1990 (English)In: Toxicological & Environmental Chemistry, ISSN 0277-2248, E-ISSN 1029-0486, Vol. 29, no 3, 157-234 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Resource type
Text
Abstract [en]

Polychlorinated dibenzo‐p‐dioxins (PCDD) and polychlorinated dibenzofurans (PCDF) represent a class of tricylic, almost planar, aromatic ethers with 1 to 8 chlorine atoms. Congeners with substituents in the positions 2, 3, 7, and 8 are of special concern due to their toxicity, stability, and persistence. These compounds have been identified in almost all environmental compartments and humans.

Dioxins are a potent carcinogen for animals and—at the moment—considered a probable carcinogen for humans. Actual toxicological risk assessment for humans are based on 2,3,7,8‐Cl4DD carcinogenicity studies on rodents. Tumorigenic effects were found for 2 strains of rats and 2 strains of mice. All dioxins and furans elicit common toxic and biological responses, starting with a specific binding to a protein receptor, but existing epidemiologic data do not provide definitive data on human health effects.

Toxicity equivalency factors (TEFs) have been developed by several agencies as a provisional method of risk assessment for complex mixtures of PCDD/PCDF.

Dioxins have never been produced intentionally and have never served any useful purpose. They are formed in trace amounts as by‐products in industrial processes; for instance within the chemical industry, of the pulp and paper industry, metallurgical processes, processes for reactivation of granular carbon, dry cleaning, and the manufacture of flame‐retarded plastics.

The main pathway for dioxins to enter the environment is via combustion processes. Incineration is of special importance since PCDD/PCDF are directly released to the atmosphere from either stationary sources, such as municipal, hazardous and hospital waste incinerators, the combustion of sewage sludge, and scrap metal recycling, or diffuse sources, e.g. automobile exhausts, private home heating with fossil fuels, forest fires, and cigarette smoking. Furthermore, fires with PCB and PVC have additionally contributed to the total dioxin load. The emission gases can undergo long‐range transport, so that dioxins have been found even in remote areas.

Besides the two primary sources (industrial processes and combustion processes) the release of dioxins from contaminated areas and waste dumps via the leachate and the application of sewage sludge for fertilization represents a third source of PCDD/PCDF.

After more than 10 years of dioxin research the most important sources of PCDD/PCDF have been identified and analytical methods have been developed for their quantification in trace levels and in complex matrices.

Various efforts have been undertaken to reduce the emission of dioxins: for example, optimization of combustion processes for municipal waste incineration, use of unleaded gasoline, ban of chemicals, such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and pentachlorophenol (PCP). More detail is provided in the pulp and paper section where changes have been initiated to significantly reduce the sources of PCDD/PCDF.

However, relatively little is known about transport and transformation processes, so only rough estimates can be made. Photodegradation has been found to be the primary process for 2,3,7,8‐Cl4DD breakdown. A half‐life of 3–4 days has been estimated for photochemical degradation under oxidative conditions. Field studies on the fate of 2,3,7,8‐Cl4DD in soil gave a half‐life of 9.1 (Seveso) and 12 years (under special conditions: sand, erosion), respectively. Biodegradation seems to be negligible. Transfer factors soil‐plants for PCDD/PCDF have been determined—with a high degree of uncertainty—to be less than 0.1.

Human exposure primarily occurs via ingestion whereas inhalation is a minor pathway. Dermal absorption can be neglected although skin contact to polluted surfaces may occur. Due to the lipophilicity of PCDD/PCDF and their potential for accumulation, foods such as meat and especially dairy products contribute most to the dioxin body burden of humans.

Both national agencies and international organizations have recognized the significance of this problem and as a result have initiated regulations, recommendations and research programmes (1) to understand where and how PCDD/PCDF are formed, (2) to reduce their impact on the environment and to humans, and (3) to start remedial action on contaminated areas.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Taylor & Francis, 1990. Vol. 29, no 3, 157-234 p.
National Category
Chemical Sciences Environmental Sciences
Research subject
Chemistry; Enviromental Science
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:oru:diva-47662DOI: 10.1080/02772249009357628ISI: A1990FR80200001Scopus ID: 2-s2.0-84948896881OAI: oai:DiVA.org:oru-47662DiVA: diva2:901254
Available from: 2016-02-07 Created: 2016-01-19 Last updated: 2016-02-19Bibliographically approved

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