What is dioxin and why it is dangerous for our health

What is dioxin and why it is dangerous for our health

Dioxin alarm in the capital from the afternoon of Wednesday 15 June, when a large fire occurred in the area of ​​the former Malagrotta waste dump, on the western outskirts of Rome. Although the landfill was closed in 2013 and no longer serves the capital, there are still waste treatment plants inside. As Ansa reports, in fact, the fire mainly hit two warehouses where paper and plastic were stored and a composting plant. In the meantime, through a note, the municipality of Rome has ordered the closure of schools and recreational recreational activities within a radius of six kilometers from the fire area, recommending that the population take precautionary measures, such as closing the windows, not using air conditioners. and do not consume food from the surrounding areas.

The large blanket of smoke that arose from the site alarmed the inhabitants of the area, worried about the risk of emissions of dioxins and other toxic substances: the citizens' committee of Valle Galeria reported on Facebook that "o In addition to the risk of dioxin released into the air, there are adjacent gas and petrol deposits that have been alerted ".

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Dioxins, what they are and where they are found As reported by the Higher Institute of Health (Iss) some substances formed by carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and chlorine are called under the name of dioxins - polychlorinated dibenzodioxins (Pcdd), polychlorinated dibenzofurans (Pcdf) and some polychlorinated biphenyls (Dl-Pcb) - which have chemical, physical and toxicological characteristics common to each other. These are chemical compounds that originate mainly from human activities, are particularly persistent in the environment and toxic to living beings and the environment itself. Although, in fact, dioxins may derive from natural phenomena such as volcanic eruptions and forest fires, they mainly consist of by-products of industrial processes, including combustion of plastics, waste and chlorine-based compounds, paper bleaching and the production of some herbicides. and pesticides.

In particular, as stated on the dedicated page of the World Health Organization (WHO), it is precisely waste incinerators that are mainly responsible for the release of dioxins into the air. In the past, in fact, the gases resulting from the incineration of waste had high concentrations of Pcdd and Pcdf, while the Pcb, whose use is now banned globally, were widely used in numerous industrial applications. Although numerous technological improvements have been made to waste disposal plants and some sources of dioxins are no longer used in the industrial sector, the improper disposal of contaminated materials and the uncontrolled burning of waste can lead to the release of dioxins into the air, with consequent environmental contamination. Indeed, dioxins are everywhere globally, and the highest levels are found in some soils (where they have accumulated over the years) and in foods, particularly dairy, meat, fish and shellfish.

The main source of human exposure to dioxins, in fact, (equal to about 90%) is represented by foods, especially those with a significant fat component. Once dioxins enter a living organism, due to their chemical stability and their ability to be absorbed by adipose tissue, they remain in the body for a long time (estimated between 7 and 11 years). Not only that: these compounds tend to accumulate throughout the food chain. The higher an animal is in the food chain (such as humans, therefore), the greater the concentration of toxic substances it is exposed to. Other less common possible routes of exposure are inhalation and ingestion of dust or earth containing dioxin, or through contact with the skin.

Health effects and prevention strategies Short-term exposure to high levels of dioxins (uncommon, but similar to what happened during the first days immediately after the Seveso accident, when in 1976 a cloud of dioxins released from the Icmesa company in Meda, Brianza) can cause chloracne, a type of severe skin lesions that leave scars, even permanent, impaired liver function and sugar metabolism.

Long-term exposure to these substances, on the other hand, has been associated with impairment of the immune system, the developing nervous system, the endocrine system and reproductive functions. Dioxins have negative effects especially on the development of the fetus, both during pregnancy and immediately after childbirth. In addition, high levels of dioxin over the years can lead to cancers of the lymphatic tissue, blood cancers and breast cancers. In particular, tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (Tcdd), the dioxin most dangerous to human health, has been classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as a known carcinogen for humans.

However, due to the omnipresence of dioxins in the environment, all human beings are exposed to certain levels of these compounds (phenomenon also called background exposure) and have a certain amount of them inside of the organism, which however does not seem to have significant effects on health. Yet, as the WHO points out, government agencies need to work to reduce current underlying exposure and to avoid short and long-term direct exposure. According to the health authority, the best way to prevent and control exposure to dioxins is to incinerate contaminated material correctly, strictly control industrial processes and avoid food contamination.

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