POPs, Dioxins, Furans and Related Pollutants – Intro

This page contains compiled whole (and quotes from) articles on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs), Aldrin, Dieldrin, Endrin, Chlordane, DDT, Heptachlor, Hexachlorobenzene, Mirex, Toxaphene, PCBs, Dioxins, Furans and Poly Chlorinated Biphenyls to get you up to speed on what these compounds are, where they come from, how they end in your body and their effects.

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Fact sheet N°225
May 2010

Dioxins and their effects on human health

Key Facts

  • Dioxins are a group of chemically-related compounds that are persistent environmental pollutants.
  • Dioxins are found throughout the world in the environment and they accumulate in the food chain, mainly in the fatty tissue of animals.
  • More than 90% of human exposure is through food, mainly meat and dairy products, fish and shellfish. Many national authorities have programmes in place to monitor the food supply.
  • Dioxins are highly toxic and can cause reproductive and developmental problems, damage the immune system, interfere with hormones and also cause cancer.
  • Due to the omnipresence of dioxins, all people have background exposure, which is not expected to affect human health. However, due to the highly toxic potential of this class of compounds, efforts need to be undertaken to reduce current background exposure.
  • Prevention or reduction of human exposure is best done via source-directed measures, i.e. strict control of industrial processes to reduce formation of dioxins as much as possible.


Dioxins are environmental pollutants. They have the dubious distinction of belonging to the “dirty dozen” – a group of dangerous chemicals known as persistent organic pollutants. Dioxins are of concern because of their highly toxic potential. Experiments have shown they affect a number of organs and systems. Once dioxins have entered the body, they endure a long time because of their chemical stability and their ability to be absorbed by fat tissue, where they are then stored in the body. Their half-life in the body is estimated to be seven to eleven years. In the environment, dioxins tend to accumulate in the food chain. The higher in the animal food chain one goes, the higher the concentration of dioxins.

Related links

WHO programme on food safety and zoonoses

International Programme on Chemical Safety

Technical report: Evaluation of certain food additives and contaminants [pdf 911 kb]

The chemical name for dioxin is: 2,3,7,8- tetrachlorodibenzo para dioxin (TCDD). The name “dioxins” is often used for the family of structurally and chemically related polychlorinated dibenzo para dioxins (PCDDs) and polychlorinated dibenzofurans (PCDFs). Certain dioxin-like polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) with similar toxic properties are also included under the term “dioxins”. Some 419 types of dioxin-related compounds have been identified but only about 30 of these are considered to have significant toxicity, with TCDD being the most toxic.

Sources of dioxin contamination

Dioxins are mainly by products of industrial processes but can also result from natural processes, such as volcanic eruptions and forest fires. Dioxins are unwanted by products of a wide range of manufacturing processes including smelting, chlorine bleaching of paper pulp and the manufacturing of some herbicides and pesticides. In terms of dioxin release into the environment, uncontrolled waste incinerators (solid waste and hospital waste) are often the worst culprits, due to incomplete burning. Technology is available that allows for controlled waste incineration with low emissions.

Although formation of dioxins is local, environmental distribution is global. Dioxins are found throughout the world in the environment. The highest levels of these compounds are found in some soils, sediments and food, especially dairy products, meat, fish and shellfish. Very low levels are found in plants, water and air.

Extensive stores of PCB-based waste industrial oils, many with high levels of PCDFs, exist throughout the world. Long-term storage and improper disposal of this material may result in dioxin release into the environment and the contamination of human and animal food supplies. PCB-based waste is not easily disposed of without contamination of the environment and human populations. Such material needs to be treated as hazardous waste and is best destroyed by high temperature incineration.

Dioxin contamination incidents

Many countries monitor their food supply for dioxins. This has led to early detection of contamination and has often prevented impact on a larger scale. One example is the detection of increased dioxin levels in milk in 2004 in the Netherlands, traced to a clay used in the production of the animal feed. In another incident, elevated dioxin levels were detected in animal feed in the Netherlands in 2006 and the source was identified as contaminated fat used in the production of the feed.

Some dioxin contamination events have been more significant, with broader implications in many countries.

In late 2008, Ireland recalled many tons of pork meat and pork products when up to 200 times more dioxins than the safe limit were detected in samples of pork. This finding led to one of the largest food recalls related to a chemical contamination. Risk assessments performed by Ireland indicated no public health concern. The contamination was traced back to contaminated feed.

In July 2007, the European Commission issued a health warning to its Member States after high levels of dioxins were detected in a food additive – guar gum – used as thickener in small quantities in meat, dairy, dessert or delicatessen products. The source was traced to guar gum from India that was contaminated with pentachlorophenol (PCP), a pesticide no longer in use. PCP contains dioxins as contamination.

In 1999, high levels of dioxins were found in poultry and eggs from Belgium. Subsequently, dioxin-contaminated animal-based food (poultry, eggs, pork), were detected in several other countries. The cause was traced to animal feed contaminated with illegally disposed PCB-based waste industrial oil.

In March 1998, high levels of dioxins in milk sold in Germany were traced to citrus pulp pellets used as animal feed exported from Brazil. The investigation resulted in a ban on all citrus pulp imports to the EU from Brazil.

Another case of dioxin contamination of food occurred in the United States of America in 1997. Chickens, eggs, and catfish were contaminated with dioxins when a tainted ingredient (bentonite clay, sometimes called “ball clay”) was used in the manufacture of animal feed. The contaminated clay was traced to a bentonite mine. As there was no evidence that hazardous waste was buried at the mine, investigators speculate that the source of dioxins may be natural, perhaps due to a prehistoric forest fire.

Large amounts of dioxins were released in a serious accident at a chemical factory in Seveso, Italy, in 1976. A cloud of toxic chemicals, including 2,3,7,8-Tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin, or TCDD, was released into the air and eventually contaminated an area of 15 square kilometres where 37 000 people lived. Extensive studies in the affected population are continuing to determine the long-term human health effects from this incident. These investigations, however, are hampered by the lack of appropriate exposure assessments. A minor increase in certain cancers and effects on reproduction have been detected and are being further investigated. Possible effects on the children of exposed people are currently being studied.

TCDD has also been extensively studied for health effects linked to its presence as a contaminant in some batches of the herbicide Agent Orange, which was used as a defoliant during the Vietnam War. A link to certain types of cancers and also to diabetes is still being investigated.

Earlier incidents of food contamination have been reported in other parts of the world. Although all countries can be affected, most contamination cases have been reported in industrialized countries where adequate food contamination monitoring, greater awareness of the hazard and better regulatory controls are available for the detection of dioxin problems.

A few cases of intentional human poisoning have also been reported. The most notable incident is the 2004 case of Viktor Yushchenko, President of the Ukraine, whose face was disfigured by chloracne.

Effects of dioxins on human health

Short-term exposure of humans to high levels of dioxins may result in skin lesions, such as chloracne and patchy darkening of the skin, and altered liver function. Long-term exposure is linked to impairment of the immune system, the developing nervous system, the endocrine system and reproductive functions. Chronic exposure of animals to dioxins has resulted in several types of cancer. TCDD was evaluated by the WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) in 1997. Based on animal data and on human epidemiology data, TCDD was classified by IARC as a “known human carcinogen”. However, TCDD does not affect genetic material and there is a level of exposure below which cancer risk would be negligible.

Due to the omnipresence of dioxins, all people have background exposure and a certain level of dioxins in the body, leading to the so-called body burden. Current normal background exposure is not expected to affect human health on average. However, due to the high toxic potential of this class of compounds, efforts need to be undertaken to reduce current background exposure.

Sensitive subgroups

The developing fetus is most sensitive to dioxin exposure. The newborn, with rapidly developing organ systems, may also be more vulnerable to certain effects. Some individuals or groups of individuals may be exposed to higher levels of dioxins because of their diets (e.g., high consumers of fish in certain parts of the world) or their occupations (e.g., workers in the pulp and paper industry, in incineration plants and at hazardous waste sites, to name just a few).

Prevention and control of dioxin exposure

Proper incineration of contaminated material is the best available method of preventing and controlling exposure to dioxins. It can also destroy PCB-based waste oils. The incineration process requires high temperatures, over 850°C. For the destruction of large amounts of contaminated material, even higher temperatures – 1000°C or more – are required.

Prevention or reduction of human exposure is best done via source-directed measures, i.e. strict control of industrial processes to reduce formation of dioxins as much as possible. This is the responsibility of national governments, but in recognition of the importance of this approach, the Codex Alimentarius Commission adopted in 2001 a Code of Practice for Source Directed Measures to Reduce Contamination of Foods with Chemicals (CAC/RCP 49-2001), and in 2006 a Code of Practice for the Prevention and Reduction of Dioxin and Dioxin-like PCB Contamination in Food and Feeds (CAC/RCP 62-2006).

More than 90% of human exposure to dioxins is through the food supply, mainly meat and dairy products, fish and shellfish. Consequently, protecting the food supply is critical. One approach includes, as mentioned above, source-directed measures to reduce dioxin emissions. Secondary contamination of the food supply needs to be avoided throughout the food-chain. Good controls and practices during primary production, processing, distribution and sale are all essential to the production of safe food.

Food contamination monitoring systems must be in place to ensure that tolerance levels are not exceeded. It is the role of national governments to monitor the safety of food supply and to take action to protect public health. When incidents of contamination are suspected, countries should have contingency plans to identify, detain and dispose of contaminated feed and food. The exposed population should be examined in terms of exposure (e.g. measuring the contaminants in blood or human milk) and effects (e.g. clinical surveillance to detect signs of ill health).

What should consumers do to reduce their risk of exposure?

Trimming fat from meat and consuming low fat dairy products may decrease the exposure to dioxin compounds. Also, a balanced diet (including adequate amounts of fruits, vegetables and cereals) will help to avoid excessive exposure from a single source. This is a long-term strategy to reduce body burdens and is probably most relevant for girls and young women to reduce exposure of the developing fetus and when breastfeeding infants later on in life. However, the possibility for consumers to reduce their own exposure is somewhat limited.

What does it take to identify and measure dioxins in the environment and food?

The quantitative chemical analysis of dioxins requires sophisticated methods that are available only in a limited number of laboratories around the world. These are mostly in industrialized countries. The analysis costs are very high and vary according to the type of sample, but range from over US$ 1700 for the analysis of a single biological sample to several thousand US dollars for the comprehensive assessment of release from a waste incinerator.

Increasingly, biological (cell- or antibody) -based screening methods are being developed. The use of such methods for food samples is not yet sufficiently validated. Nevertheless, such screening methods will allow more analyses at lower cost. In case of a positive screening test, confirmation of results must be carried out via more complex chemical analysis.

WHO activities related to dioxins

Reducing dioxin exposure is an important public health goal for disease reduction, also with respect to sustainable development. In order to give guidance on acceptable levels of exposure, WHO has held a series of expert meetings to determine a tolerable intake of dioxins to which a human can be exposed throughout life without harm.

In the latest of such expert meetings held in 2001, the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) performed an updated comprehensive risk assessment of PCDDs, PCDFs, and “dioxin-like” PCBs. The experts concluded that a tolerable intake could be established for dioxins on the basis of the assumption that there is a threshold for all effects, including cancer. The long half-lives of PCDDs, PCDFs and “dioxin-like” PCBs mean that each daily ingestion has a small or even a negligible effect on overall intake. In order to assess long- or short-term risks to health due to these substances, total or average intake should be assessed over months, and the tolerable intake should be assessed over a period of at least one month. The experts established a provisional tolerable monthly intake (PTMI) of 70 picogram/kg per month. This level is the amount of dioxins that can be ingested over lifetime without detectable health effects.

WHO, in collaboration with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), through the joint FAO/WHO Codex Alimentarius Commission, has established a ‘Code of Practice for the Prevention and Reduction of Dioxin and Dioxin-like PCB Contamination in Foods and Feed’. This document gives guidance to national and regional authorities on preventive measures. The establishment of Codex guideline levels for dioxins in foods is under consideration.

Since 1976, WHO has been responsible for the Global Environment Monitoring System’s Food Contamination Monitoring and Assessment Programme. Commonly known as GEMS/Food, the programme provides information on levels and trends of contaminants in food through its network of participating laboratories in over 70 countries around the world. Dioxins are included in this monitoring programme.

Since 1987, WHO has conducted periodic studies on levels of dioxins in human milk, mainly in European countries. These studies provide an assessment of human exposure to dioxins from all sources. Recent exposure data indicate that measures introduced to control dioxin release in a number of countries have resulted in a substantial reduction in exposure to these compounds over the past two decades.

WHO is now working with the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) on the implementation of the ‘Stockholm Convention’, an international agreement to reduce emissions of certain persistent organic pollutants (POPs), including dioxins. A number of actions are being considered internationally to reduce the production of dioxins during incineration and manufacturing processes. In responding to the needs of the Stockholm Convention on POPs, the WHO GEMS/Food has developed a new protocol for a Global Survey of Human Milk for POPs in order to meet the health, food safety and environmental objectives of WHO, UNEP and their member countries. This protocol will assist national and regional authorities to collect and analyse representative samples in order to assess the current state of background exposure and in the future to assess the effectiveness of measures taken to reduce exposure.

Dioxins occur as a complex mixture in the environment and in food. In order to assess the potential risk of the whole mixture, the concept of toxic equivalence has been applied to this group of contaminants. TCDD, the most toxic member of the family, is used as reference compound, and all other dioxins are assigned a toxic potency relative to TCDD, based on experimental studies. During the last 15 years, WHO, through the International Programme on Chemical Safety (IPCS), has established and regularly re-evaluated toxic equivalency factors (TEFs) for dioxins and related compounds through expert consultations. WHO-TEF values have been established which apply to humans, mammals, birds and fish. The last such consultation was held in 2005 to update human and mammalian TEFs. These international TEFs have been developed for application in risk assessment and management, and have been adopted formally by a number of countries and regional bodies, including Canada, Japan, the United States and the European Union.

Source: World Health Organization http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs225/en/index.html – Retrieved 2010/11/18


What Are POPs?

Persistent organic pollutants (POPs) are carbon containing chemical compounds that, to a varying degree, resist photochemical, biological and chemical degradation. POPs are often halogenated and characterise by low water solubility and high lipid solubility, leading, together with their persistence, to bioacumulation in fatty tissues. They are also semi-volatile, a property which permits these compounds either to vaporise or to be adsorbed on atmospheric particles. They therefore undergo long range transport in air and water from warmer to colder regions of the world.

Although many different chemicals, both natural and anthropogenic (i.e. produced by man), may be defined as POPs, 12 POPs, all chlorine-containinig organic compounds, have been chosen as priority pollutants by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) for their impact on human health and environment. The twelve POPs include many of the first generation organochlorine insecticides, e.g. DDT, aldrin, industrial chemical products, e.g. PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) or, unwanted by-products such as dioxins and furans.


Pesticides Industrial Chemical Products Unwanted By-products
Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) Polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins (PCDDs)
Endrin Hexachlorobenzene (HCB) Polychlorinated dibenzofurans (PCDFs)
Chlordane Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)
DDT Hexachlorobenzene (HCB)
Hexachlorobenzene (HCB)

Most POPs may persist in the environment for periods of several years and may bioconcentrate up to ten thousands fold. These properties of unusual high persistence and semi-volatility, coupled with other characteristics, have resulted in the presence of POPs all over the world, even in regions where they have never been used. POPs are ubiquitous. They have been measured on every continent, at sites representing every major climatic zone and geographic region throughout the world. These include remote regions, where no significant local sources exist and the only reasonable explanation for their presence is long-range transport from other parts of the globe. POPs have been found, on a global scale, in soils, sediments, in the fat of fish and terrestrial animals, as well as in human breast milk. Some of the highest levels have been recorded in the polar areas of both the hemispheres.

Humans are generally exposed to POPs through the ingestion of food. A growing body of scientific evidence associates human exposure to individual POPs with cancer, neurotoxic, behavioural, reproductive effects, immutoxicity and other effects. The mechanism for many of these effects appears to be through disruption of the human endocrine system. Humans appear to be extraordinary sensitive to these chemicals during fetal development.(WFPHA, World Federation of Public Health Association, 2000).

POPs are linked by a growing body of evidence to reproductive failure, deformities, malfunctions in fish and wild life. Studies from the Great Lakes environment revealed that a dozen of Great Lakes predators as eagles, cormorants, trouts, minks, turtles and others, suffered significant health impacts including population decline and reproductive dysfunction, eggshell thinning, metabolic changes, deformities and birth defects, cancers, behavioural changes, abnormally functioning thyroids and other hormone system dysfunction, immune suppression, feminisation of males and masculinisation of females.(WFPHA, 2000).

Read more about POPs, Download “The Ritter Report”: Persistent Organic Pollutants Assessment Report, IOMC, Dec. 1995, 76K/145K, English. (htm file)

Source: Global Programme of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-based Activities (GPA) UNEP.
http://www.chem.unep.ch/gpa_trial/01what.htm – Retrieved 2010/11/18

Dioxins and Furans

Polychlorinated dibenzo-para-dioxins (dioxins) and polychlorinated dibenzofurans (furans) are two structurally similar families of compounds that include 75 and 135 congeners, respectively. At least seventeen are considered highly toxic. The overall toxicity of a dioxin containing mixture is assumed to be the Toxic Equivalent (TEQ) of a stated amount of pure 2, 3, 7, 8-tetrachloro-dibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD), the most potent, hazardous and well-studied dioxin. Dioxins and furans have similar effects on human health, and will be referred to collectively as dioxins.

Dioxins are not commercially produced, but are by products of combustion and industrial processes, including the manufacture of chlorinated chemicals, the incineration of hospital, hazardous and municipal waste, and the bleaching of paper products. Dioxins are stable, persistent compounds that are believed to have a half-life of seven to twenty years in the human body. In the Great Lakes, exposure to dioxin-like compounds has been linked to large -scale hormonal, reproductive and developmental impairment among numerous species of predator birds fish and wildlife; these impacts are primarily transgenerational, affecting the offspring of the exposed organisms.

Approximately 90% of human exposure to dioxin comes from food, especially from beef, fish, and dairy products. Contamination in the food supply comes from dioxin particles that are deposited in water or soil and then proceed up the food chain through fish and livestock, ultimately reaching human tissues through the food we eat. Dioxin bioaccumulates, becoming increasingly concentrated in living tissues as it moves up the food chain.

Dioxins are known to be toxic at extremely low doses. Americans, on average, are exposed to only 1 to 3 picograms per kilogram of body weight per day and the U.S. population revealed an average body burden of 7-8 nano-g/kg of body weight (U.S. EPA, 1982). A 2000 evaluation indicates that adult daily intakes of dioxin and related compounds, including dioxin-like PCBs average 70pgTEQ(DFP)WHO(98)/day. (U.S. EPA, 2000). In most industrialised nations of the world, dioxin body burdens and exposure are in the same range, with levels assumed to be somewhat lower in developing countries, were little testing has been done. The World Health Organization recently lowered by more than half its tolerable daily intake from 10 pg, fixed previously in 1990, to 4 pg/kg bw, based on a recognition that subtle effects may already occur in the general population in developed countries at levels of 2 to 6 picograms.(WFPHA, World Federation of Public Health Associations, 2000).

Effects on Humans

In 1985, the U.S. EPA declared TCDD (2,3,7,8- Tetra chloro dibenzo dioxin) the most potent synthetic carcinogen yet tested. More recently, IARC has classified TCDD as known human carcinogen. The U.S. EPA estimates that currently U.S. background dioxin exposures may result in upper-bound population cancer risk in the range of one in ten thousand to one in a thousand (one case of cancer out of 10.000 inhabitants or 1 case of cancer out 1000 inhabitants). (WFPHA, 2000).

In humans, there is evidence that high-level exposure to dioxins and furans can cause variations in serum lipid level, microsomal enzyme induction, and gastrointestinal alterations. Other studies of high-level occupational exposure have found associations with some types of cancer, and have concluded that in utero and lactational exposures to dioxins and furans are capable of affecting the hypothalamic/pituitary/thyroid regulatory system in human infants. According to U.S. EPA, effects on humans, including hormonal and metabolic changes, have been documented at dioxin body burdens and exposures only slightly higher than those of the general population.

A single cellular mechanism is thought to be responsible for the wide range of effects dioxins can have. It is believed that dioxins affect organisms by binding to pre-existing cellular receptors designed for hormones, entering the nucleus and manipulating the on or off function of the gene. The genes affected by an impostor like dioxin contain codes for proteins, hormones, enzymes and growth factors, which collectively influence tissue development in the human body. This mechanism is the same in both humans and animals, allowing extrapolation from laboratory experiments involving dioxin effects on animals to a parallel human reaction. (WFPHA, 2000).

Effects on the Aquatic Environment

There is substantial evidence to indicate that populations of wildlife species high on the food chain are suffering health damage due to reproductive and developmental impairment due to background exposures to dioxins and related compounds. In the Great Lakes, exposure to dioxin-like compounds has been linked to large-scale hormonal, reproductive, and developmental impairment among numerous species of predator birds, fish and wildlife; these impacts are primarily transgenerational, affecting the offspring of the exposed organisms. (WFPHA, 2000).
The U.S. EPA hypothesised that the primary mechanism by which dioxins enter ecological food chains and human diet is via atmospheric deposition. Dioxin and related compounds would enter the atmosphere directly through air emissions and are widely spread in the environment as a result of a number of physical and biological processes. (U.S. EPA, 2000).

Monitoring Techniques and Standards

The HSDB, Hazardous Substances Data Bank: type Dioxins and Tetrachloro-dibenzofurans.

This site reports a full list of information on the substance as: Human Health Effects, Animal Toxicity Studies, Environmental Fate & Exposure, Environmental Standards & Regulations, Chemical/Physical Properties, Chemical Safety & Handling, Occupational Exposure Standards, Laboratory Methods, Synonyms and Identifiers.

Toxicology report with toxicity data for furans from the Vermont Safety Information Resources, Inc.

This site provides a list or toxicity tests results, references for toxicity literature reviews, USA standards and regulations, occupational exposure limits in different states all over the world, and reference to NIHOSH, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, analytical standard methods.

Cancer Classification Toxic Effects
Developmental Reproductive Immune System

2, 3, 7, 8 TCDD:
Group 1: carcinogenic to humans.

Polychlorinated dibenzo-para-dioxins(other than 2, 3, 7, 8 TCDD): Group 3: unclassifiable as to carcinogenicity to humans.

Polychlorinated dibenzofurans: Group 3: unclassifiable as to carcinogenicity to humans.


  • foetuses exposed via placenta and breast milk showed muscles reflexes and thyroids dysfunction. (WFPHA, 2000).

work exposure:

  • reduced level of sex male hormone testosterone.(WFPHA, 2000).

Monkeys: (TCDD) chronic non toxic exposure:

  • reduction of reproduction rate.
  • Increased abortion. (WFPHA, 2000).

  • suppression of cell-mediated and humoral responses, suggesting that both innate and acquired immunities can be targeted. (WFPHA, 2000).

*IARC: International Agency for Research on Cancer.


Global Programme of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-based Activities (GPA) UNEP.
http://www.chem.unep.ch/gpa_trial/1_10dio.htm – Retrieved 2010/11/18


Effects on Human Health

The greatest part of human exposure to the 12 POPs is attributed to the ingestion of food. Contamination of food may occur through environmental pollution in the air, water and soil, or through the previous use or unauthorised use of organochlorine pesticides on food crops. Food rich in animal fat, such as meats, fish, and dairy products are the most important means of exposure often due to bioaccumulation through the food chain.

For some POPs, occupational and accidental high-level exposure, through inhalation and dermal contact, is of concern for both acute and chronic worker exposure. In addition to other exposure routes, worker exposure to POPs during waste management is a significant source of occupational risk in many countries. Short-term exposure to high concentrations of certain POPs has been shown to result in illness and death.

The health effects of POPs are generally subtle and can be triggered at extraordinary low concentrations. The latency period for POPs may be very long. Not only can there be may years between exposure and outcome in the exposed individual, but in some cases effects occur in future generations. (WFPHA, World Federation of Public Health Associations, 2000).

Exposure to POPs can be associated with the following health effects in humans:

  • Immune system biochemical alterations;
  • Reproductive deficits;
  • A shortened period of lactation in nursing mothers;
  • Neurobehavioral impairment including learning disorders, reduced performance on standard tests, and attention deficits;
  • Diabetes;
  • Cancer.

The following table shows the evaluation of carcinogenic risk to humans for the 12 POPs made by IARC, International Agency for Research on Cancer.

IARC (International Agency for Research on Cancer) Classification POPs
Group 1: The agent (mixture) is carcinogenic to humans 2,3,7,8-Tetrachlorodibenzo-para-dioxin (TCDD)
Group 2A: The agent (mixture) is probably carcinogenic to humans Mixtures of polychlorinated biphenyls
Group 2B: The agent (mixture) is possibly carcinogenic to humans Chlordane
Toxaphene (mixtures of Polychlorinated camphenes)
Group 3: The agent (mixture or exposure circumstance) is unclassifiable as to carcinogenicity in humans Aldrin
Polychlorinated dibenzo-para-dioxins (other than TCDD)
Polychlorinated dibenzofurans

It is possible to document three distinct types of human exposure to POPs.

  • High-dose acute exposure: typically results from accidental fires or explosions involving electrical capacitors or other PCB-containing equipment, or high dose food contamination.
  • Mid-level chronic exposure is predominantly due to the occupational exposure, and , in some cases, also due to the proximity of environmental storage sites or high consumption of a POPs-contaminated dietary source, such as fish or other marine animals.
  • Chronic, low-dose exposure is characteristic for the general population world-wide as a consequence of the existing global background levels of POPs with a variations due to diet, geography, and level of industrial pollution. Low level and population-wide effects are more difficult to study. People are exposed to multiple POPs during their lifetime and most people today carry detectable levels of a number of POPs in their body. (WFPHA, 2000).

Source: Global Programme of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-based Activities (GPA) UNEP.

http://www.chem.unep.ch/gpa_trial/02healt.htm – Retrieved 2010/11/18


Inputs of POPs to The Marine Environment

Sources of POPs inputs in the marine environment can be divided in primary sources and secondary sources.

  • Primary sources are those with direct fluxes into sea such as: atmospheric deposition, riverine inflow ( that contains contaminants from both washout of agricultural surfaces and of point sources) or, municipal and industrial waste water outlets.
  • Secondary sources are in the western world of great concern considering that primary sources disappeared or diminished as a consequence of regulations. Secondary sources are contaminated sediments or dump sites that can release POPs in a time subsequent to their use or production.(Skei et al., 2000).

Aerial Transport and Atmospheric Deposition:

Aerial Transport

POPs are lipophilic substances with low solubility in water and low to medium volatility. They can travel long distances in the environment as molecules in the gaseous phase or, due to their hydrophobicity, be adsorbed on particles, suspended in aerosols and transported by the winds. The principal source of widespread pesticide contamination is from agricultural use of these compounds. Aerial transport is the main route by which they reach the sea. All organochlorine pesticides volatilise, particularly in the tropics where they are still used in large quantities and where climatic conditions favour their release to the atmosphere. The presence of water vapour may enhance this property. In Nigeria, 98% of the DDT applied to a cow pea crop volatilised within four years. (Clark et al., 1997). Further, DDT, the “drins” and toxaphene adsorb strongly on particles and are carried into the sea on wind-borne dust. Some agricultural practices particularly favour the aerial distribution of pesticides:

  • Aerial spraying: it has been estimated that a percentage up to 50% (the highest percentage is attributed to aircraft spraying) of pesticide from crop spraying doesn’t reach directly the target ground but forms aerosols and may travel great distances.
  • Cultivation of arid areas: Arid areas may be intensely cultivated with the aid of irrigation and dry soil containing adsorbed pesticide is transported in dust storms.

Atmospheric Deposition

The most important source of contaminants in some coastal environments and in the open marine ecosystem appears to be atmospheric deposition. Through atmospheric deposition, POPs impact directly the aquatic ecosystem. Atmospheric deposition occurs through three different processes:

  • Wet deposition where chemicals in gas phase or bond to aerosols or particle are washed out from the atmosphere by rainfall.
  • Dry deposition which is a (constant) process that takes place at the surface of the sea where particles and aerosols, that previously scavenged the chemicals from the atmosphere, deposit when there is no rainfall.
  • Vapour phase adsorption a process where gas phase molecules adhere to surfaces.

In the Baltic Sea, the input of PCBs through wet deposition is 7%, through dry deposition 7% and, through vapour phase deposition 63%. The atmospheric transport of POPs is higher than input from other sources in this region , and for PCBs in the Baltic Sea, for example, this input represents about 77% , compared to a river input of 23% (Larsson et al., 2000), (see example below). This would also explain how high concentrations of POPs can occur in Arctic and Antarctic regions, very far away from their sources.

The following table shows a comparison between atmospheric and river inputs of some organochlorines to the world oceans (t/yr.). (Clark, 1997).

Compound Atmosphere (t/yr.) Rivers (t/yr.) % Atmospheric
HCB 77.1 4 95
Dieldrin 42.9 4 91
DDT/DDE/DDD 165 4 98
Chlordane 22.1 4 85
PCBs 239 40-80 80

River Input and Agricultural Run-off

Coastal Environments

Although the total burden of POPs carried into the sea by rivers is small compared with aerial inputs, it may be locally damaging. Floods carry very large quantities of silt into the sea, and if the silt is derived from agricultural land, it may carry a considerable burden of adsorbed POPs. Before reaching the coastal environment, POPs, mainly adsorbed onto particles, cross estuaries where sudden changes in chemical and physical condition occur. Here, processes such as flocculation of organic polymers or aggregation of organic matter trap the particles with lipophilic substances. Macroagregates are subsequently deposited in estuaries and delta areas and the future fate of POPs buried in sediments is closely related with the organic matter deposited with them. Coastal environments are the most productive areas of the sea, and POPs trapped in the sediments can be absorbed by bentic fauna or can volatilise trough the upper water column when anaerobic conditions occur in the bottom sediments.

The use of DDT and the”Drins” was phased out in western European states in the early 1970s, but elevated levels of chlorinated hydrocarbons are still recorded near the mouths of the major rivers, and over 3 tons per year of PCBs enter the North Sea from river inputs, mainly from the Rhine. This could be explained by the input from sediments still contaminated with pesticides carried in the runoff from the land, or of PCBs in drainage water from poorly maintained land disposal sites.(Clark, 1997).

Open Sea Environments

Conversely pollutants originating from river and wastewater transport are not directly available for uptake into the pelagic open sea. As a result of particle association, the pollutants sediment by gravitational settling at the river mouth and may, on a longer time scale, reach the open sea by sediment transport and focusing. Despite their lipophilic properties, part of the substances are dissolved in the water. This fraction may be transported in the water phase as a result of association to dissolved or colloidal organic matter. Still, the time to reach the pelagic environment is substantial.(Larsson et al., 2000).

Waste Waters.

Although direct inputs of chlorinated hydrocarbons to the sea have largely ceased, a large quantity of pesticides and PCBs from these sources continue to contaminate bottom sediments. Chlorinated hydrocarbons are often presents in industrial outfalls to the sea. One striking case is that of the Montrose Chemical Company in Los Angeles which was the world’s major manufacturer of DDT. The Los Angeles sewerage system received the effluent from this factory and, from 1949 until 1971, this resulted in the discharge of 216 tons per year of DDT residues to the sea through the ocean outfall of this sewerage system. A survey made in 1972 suggested that 20 tons of DDT resides were trapped in the upper 30 cm of the bottom sediment over an area of 50 square kilometres around the outfall.

Sewage sludge may also contain elevated concentrations of chlorinated hydrocarbons and , if dumped at sea, represents an additional source of contamination. Sewage sludge from Glasgow dumped in the Firth of Clyde in the 1960s resulted in a contribution of 1 ton per year of PCBs to the bottom sediments until the discharge of PCBs was brought under control.(Clark, 1997).

Marine Migratory Species

Migratory species pick up contaminants through the food on their wintering grounds or at sites along the migration pathway. In the Arctic, for example, birds that breed in the north and overwinter in more temperate (and industrialised) latitudes may contain higher levels of contaminants in their tissues than birds that overwinter in the north. The contaminants are transported north each spring when the birds migrate back. This has significant implications for Arctic predators, including humans, for which the migrating birds provide a food source. Contaminant levels in common and king eiders, (Somateria mollissima; S. spectabilis) collected as part of a survey of contaminants in harvested avian species, illustrate this trend as do samples taken from peregrine falcons. (Muir et al., 1999).

Source: http://www.chem.unep.ch/gpa_trial/031marin.htm – Retrieved 2010/11/18


How can POPs Enter and Accumulate in Fish and Other Living Marine Organisms?

POPs in the marine environment

Fig (OSPAR Commission, 2000).

The Air Water Film Interface

Chlorinated hydrocarbons are to a different extent insoluble in water with a saturation concentration of no more than 1 ppb but, they are soluble in fats and adsorb strongly onto particles. The surface layer of the sea is a film with a maximum thickness of 1 mm, which is known to contain fatty acids. Because of their lipid solubility, organochlorines may therefore accumulate in it. The organochlorine enrichment of the surface film may be of considerable importance to surface living organisms or to birds, such as petres, that skim fat off the surface of the sea.

Open Sea Sediment Deposition and Cycling of POPs

Planktonic organisms play a very important role in open sea sedimentation. In fact, in this environment, plankton is the main source of sediments and sediment contamination. When these organisms die, they sink trough the water column from euphotic zones, (where the light is still present), to deep sea environments where they form sediments. Cycling of POPs can therefore occur in these areas. When the particles sink through the water column, a degradation of the organic matrix occurs and consequently, POPs are released into the surrounding water. This process is particularly important close to the water sediment interface, where bacterial activity is more intense and mineralisation occurs at a higher speed.

Sediment Burial and Anoxic Environments

Particles, with POPs adsorbed onto them, can be buried by sediments and thus create submerged pools of contaminants. The contaminants can then be released under particular conditions. It has, for example, been shown that under anoxic conditions, sediments containing organic carbon could release contaminants into the surrounding water. This process is likely to occur also with organochlorines, making the pollutants available for the bentic fauna. Furthermore during anoxia (when oxygen is depleted), gases may be generated which can scrap pollutants from particles or cause physical mixing. A severely contaminated sediment will, inevitably, become a source of pollution (Skei et al., 2000).

Food Web Interactions

Planktonic organisms are the first link for pollutant transfer in the pelagic system. Traditionally, primary producers, (all those organisms that are able to synthesise organic matter capturing the energy of the sunlight) such as phytoplankton have been considered as the initial step for transport of POPs into food webs. Recent studies, however, point out that the capacity of uptake of bacteria is an important route for POPs transportation via the microbial food chain. The microbial food chain is the link between microorganisms in the sea.

Microorganisms in pelagic system are mainly constituted by viruses, bacteria, flagellates ciliates, phytoplankton, and microzooplankton. Because of the high abundance of bacteria, their small size and relatively fast turnover times (hours to days), bacteria cells represent the largest biological surface area in natural waters. This, in addition to other factors, make them especially important as an adsorptive matrix for POPs. Bacteria therefore have the potential to take up a larger proportion of POPs from the water than phytoplankton. (Larsson et al. , 2000). Fig. Amibio.

Biomagnification or Lipid Control?

Water living organism can assume POPs in the following two ways:

  • directly from the surrounding environment. Scientists speak about lipid control when this route of transfer to the food chain is the predominant one. This because of the the higher POPs content registered in species with fat molecules more likely to store organochlorine structures.
  • Indirectly from contaminated food. In this case scientists speak about biomagnification since the highest POPs concentrations are found in fish, birds and marine mammals, i.e. at the highest steps of the food chain.

Direct uptake and storage of POPs from water is defined as the bioconcentration capacity of a living organism. The bioconcentration process occurs at different steps of the pelagic food web trough mechanisms that are peculiar for each level of the food chain. For example in phytoplankton, POPs diffuse inside the cells trough a gradient of concentration after finding a more or less favourable set of lipomolecules in the external membrane. In fish instead water passes through gills and selectively diffuse into the fatty tissues of the fish. (Baird, 1997).

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The bioconcentration factor, (BCF) is the measure of the intensity of bioconcentration in a organism. Every living organism has is own bioconcentration factor. BCF represents the ratio between the concentration of a chemical in an organism relative to the concentration of the same chemical in the surrounding water (BCF=Corganism/Cwater). The BFC is used when the only uptake mechanism of the organism is through diffusion.

The bioconcentration factor of a chemical can be predicted, to within about a factor of ten, from a simple laboratory experiment: the chemical is allowed to equilibrate between the liquid layers in a two phase system made up of water and 1-octanol, which has been found experimentally to be an adequate surrogate for the fatty portions of the fish. The partition coefficient (Kow) for a substance is defined as the ratio of the concentration in octanol and water and it is often reported at a logarithmic scale.

Indirect assumption or biomagnification results from a sequence of bioaccumulation steps along the food chain. E.g. fish can also bioaccumulate organic chemicals from the food they eat and from their intake of particulate in water and in sediments onto which the chemicals have adsorbed. In many such cases the contaminants are not metabolised by the fish, the substance simply accumulates in the fatty tissue of the fish where its concentration increases with time.

In practice, chemicals are biomagnified when experimental data shows an increase of the concentration of the POPs with age of the fish together with a pronounced increase of concentrations through its food web. Conversely, a lipid controlled assumption occurs when a constant concentration of POPs is found in fish fat and no clear increase of POPs is seen in its food web. For example, in the Baltic Sea there is evidence of a lipid controlled mechanism of POPs in fish such as salmons. (Skei et al., 2000).

Source: http://www.chem.unep.ch/gpa_trial/032marin.htm – Retrieved 2010/11/18


Environ Health Perspect. 1996 July; 104(7): 756–764.

PMCID: PMC1469397
Research Article
PCDDs, PCDFs, and PCBs in human blood in relation to consumption of crabs from a contaminated Fjord area in Norway.

H R Johansen, J Alexander, O J Rossland, S Planting, M Løvik, P I Gaarder, W Gdynia, K S Bjerve, and G Becher
Department of Environmental Medicine, National Institute of Public Health, Oslo, Norway.
Small right arrow pointing to: This article has been cited by other articles in PMC.

Consumption of fish and shellfish from contaminated areas may be an important source of human exposure to persistent organohalogen compounds such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins (PCDDs), and polychlorinated dibenzofurans (PCDFs). We determined concentrations of 2,3,7,8-substituted PCDDs and PCDFs and 19 PCB congeners in whole blood samples from three groups of men, 40-54 years of age, with different consumption levels of crabs from a fjord area in southern Norway polluted with organochlorine compounds from a magnesium production plant. A significant increase of many PCDD/PCDF congeners was found in the blood when comparing the referents, moderate-, and high-intake groups. The greatest difference was observed for several of the PCDFs that are characteristic for the contamination of the marine biota of the fjord. PCBs, in general, play a minor role in the contamination of the fjord by the magnesium production process, except for the highly chlorinated congeners such as PCB-209. Nevertheless, almost all PCBs increased from the referents to the high-intake group. However, the relative concentrations of several highly chlorinated PCBs (particularly PCB-209) in blood are unexpectedly low compared to their abundance in crabs, indicating low uptake of these congeners. The exposure to PCDDs/PCDFs from crab consumption calculated from individual body burdens of these compounds were in good agreement with the intake estimated from previously measured concentrations in crabs, reported fishing sites, and consumption. Almost all subjects in the high-intake group exceeded the tolerable weekly intake of 35 pg TEQ/kg body weight/week proposed by a Nordic Expert Group.

Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1469397/ – Retrieved 2010/11/18


Exposure of populations to dioxins and related compounds
Authors: A. K. Djien Liem; Peter Furst; Chris Rappe

The present situation with respect to the exposure of the general human population to PCDDs, PCDFs and (dioxin-like) PCBs and specific issues that should be taken into consideration for a risk assessment of these exposures have been summarized. The information is based on studies performed in The Netherlands and Germany in the last 10 years. Additional data have been collected through a literature search and through many contacts with researchers and national authorities. The most important route for human exposure to PCDDs, PCDFs and (dioxin-like) PCBs is food consumption contributing over 90% of total exposure, with products of animal origin and fish making the greatest contribution to this exposure. The dietary intake of PCDDs and PCDFs by the general population of industrialized countries is on average 1-3 picograms of (i)-TEQ per kilogram body weight per day. If the contribution of dioxin-like PCBs are also considered, the daily TEQ intake can be a factor of two to three higher. Special consumption habits and consumption of highly contaminated foodstuffs may lead to lower and higher TEQ intakes. In general, TEQ intake increases during childhood and stabilizes in adults of about 20 years of age. However, when normalized by body weight exposure is found to decrease with childhood age due to increasing body weight. Exposure has been shown to have fallen over time in all countries where data are available. Countries that started to implement measures to reduce dioxin emissions in the late 1980s, such as The Netherlands, United Kingdom and Germany, clearly show decreasing PCDD/PCDF and PCB levels in food and consequently a significantly lower dietary intake of these compounds by almost a factor of 2 within the past 7 years

Source: http://www.informaworld.com/smpp/content~db=all~content=a713810648~frm=titlelink – Retrieved 2010/11/18


Reducing Exposure to Dioxins and Related Compounds through Foods in the Next Generation

1. Ann L. Yaktine PhD,
2. Gail G. Harrison PhD,
3. Robert S. Lawrence MD

Article first published online: 28 JUN 2008

DOI: 10.1111/j.1753-4887.2006.tb00225.x

Dioxins and related compounds are undesirable and unintended contaminants in the food supply, and dietary intake is the major route of exposure. Reducing dietary exposure to dioxins among the most vulnerable segments of the population (i.e., pregnant women, infants, and young girls) is an effective strategy for reducing body burdens in future generations. Exposure to dioxins through foods can be minimized by selecting lower-fat versions of meats, poultry, and dairy products. Consuming all foods, including fatty fish, in recommended amounts is congruent with the goal of reducing dioxin intake exposure and maintaining good health

Dioxins and related compounds are undesirable and unintended contaminants in the food supply. Although environmental levels of these compounds have been declining over the past decade, efforts to reduce human exposure further are ongoing. Dietary intake is the major route of exposure to dioxins. US Environmental Protection Agency estimates7 suggest that animal food sources may contribute up to 90% of human exposure to dioxins. Because dioxins are long-lived compounds, and because children consume more food per body weight than do adults, reducing dioxin exposure in this segment of the population is an effective strategy for reducing body burdens in future generations. Options to minimize exposure to dioxins through foods include selecting lower-fat versions of meats, poultry, and dairy products. Consuming all foods, including fatty fish, in recommended amounts is congruent with the goal of reducing dioxin intake exposure and maintaining good health.

Source: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1753-4887.2006.tb00225.x/abstract – Retrieved 2010/11/18


Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in the UK population: estimated intake, exposure and body burden.

Duarte-Davidson, R. and Jones, K. C. (1994) Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in the UK population: estimated intake, exposure and body burden. Science of the Total Environment, 151 (2). pp. 131-152. ISSN 0048-9697.


This paper presents a detailed congener-specific estimate of PCB exposure to the UK population. The average PCB intake (i.e. the sum of IUPAC congeners No. 28, 44, 52, 61/74, 66, 99, 101, 105, 110, 118, 138, 151, 153, 156, 170, 180, 183, 187, 189, 194/205, 201, 202, 206 and 209) for the contemporary UK population was estimated to be 0.53 µg/person/day. Food consumption accounted for 97% of the PCB exposure, with fish, milk and dairy products, vegetables and meat and animal fat accounting for 32, 24, 24 and 15%, respectively. The congener pattern for different food products varied, with vegetables playing a major part in the intake of lower chlorinated compounds, whilst fatty foods such as fish, dairy products and meat, were of greater importance for the intake of higher chlorinated compounds. Theoretical body burdens and body fat concentrations of selected PCB congeners were derived for the UK population, based on the estimated contemporary human daily intake of PCBs and a number of assumptions. PCB body burdens and adipose tissue concentrations were generally predicted to increase with age. However, adipose concentrations increased at a slower rate in the older population, due to a dilution effect caused by the increase in body fat weight with age. These theoretical estimates were then compared with measured values for adipose tissue from the Welsh population. Theoretical body burdens and adipose tissue concentrations (not accounting for any metabolic losses) were below the actual values measured for the contemporary Welsh population by between a factor of 2.5 and 4. This discrepancy becomes greater when metabolic losses are included, and probably occurs because present day exposure to PCBs through foodstuffs is likely to be lower than in the past. The lower chlorinated congener No. 28 is more readily removed from the body and is predicted to reach an equilibrium concentration in humans. In contrast, the higher chlorinated No. 153 was predicted to accumulate in the body throughout life. The effect of PCB transfer via breast milk is shown to be important in lowering the body burden of the mother (by ˜ 20% over 3 months) and substantially increasing that in the offspring.

Item Type:    Article
Journal/Publication Title:    Science of the Total Environment
Uncontrolled Keywords:    Polychlorinated biphenyls; Humans; Foodstuffs; Exposure; Body burden
Department/Subjects:    Library of Congress Subject Areas > G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GE Environmental Sciences
Lancaster University Faculties/Departments > Faculty of Science and Technology > Lancaster Environment Centre > Environmental Sciences
ID Code:    22422
Deposited By:    ep_ss_importer
Deposited On:    03 Feb 2009 11:26
Refereed?:    Yes
Published?:    Published
Last Modified:    03 Feb 2009 11:26
Identification Number:    10.1016/0048-9697(94)90170-8

Source: http://eprints.lancs.ac.uk/22422/ – Retrieved 2010/11/18


A Cesspool of Pollutants, Now Is the Time to Clean-up Your Body

Manufactured chemicals permeate every tissue of every person on this planet.  The threat from these synthesized chemicals is real – even though you can’t see, taste, smell, or touch them, they can rob you of your happiness, family relationships, intelligence, and years of productive life.  Two reasons we sometimes fail to make the connection between these manufactured pollutants and disease are: their effects are insidious, taking years to reveal their damage; and not everyone is equally susceptible to injury – genetic strengths and weaknesses determine to a large part whether you will be harmed.  Inefficient metabolism and incomplete removal of these toxins from your body place you at great risk of damage.   Your greatest defenses are to avoid these pollutants in the first place; and secondarily, to take effective actions to rid your body of these poisonous substances.

Persistent Organic Pollutants

Well-known sources of these synthetic chemicals are pesticides, herbicides, building materials, and industrial wastes – these substances are collectively referred to as persistent organic pollutants (POPs). Before the early decades of the 20th century, POPs were virtually non-existent in our environment. The absence of these pollutants may be one reason for the robust health exhibited by many grandparents, even when most ate a diet high in meat and dairy products.

Production and distribution of POPs expanded dramatically following World War II to where today nearly 900 active ingredients are found in our food, water, homes, schools, and workplaces.  Some are more toxic than others are, but their additive effects make a strong case for banning the use of the entire class of these chemicals, not just a few of the worst offenders.

No one should be surprised that POPs are harmful; after all, the intended use for many is to kill living organisms – pesticides kill bugs and herbicides kill weeds.  How could you expect that they would be harmless to you and your loved ones?

POPs Damage the Unborn

The threat to the unborn begins years before children are conceived, by accumulating for entire lifetimes in the bodies of future mothers and fathers.  Potential mothers with heavy loads of POPs have a higher risk of spontaneous abortions. In one study, more than 50% of the population of women attending a fertility program had had exposure to environmental chemicals sufficient to produce detectable concentrations in their blood and the fluids found in their ovaries.1

The human fetus is exposed to environmental pollutants through the placental connection to the mother. These POPs disrupt activities of hormones – like estrogen, androgen, and thyroid hormones – during critical periods of development in the uterus, producing adverse effects, such as altered social skills, decreased intelligence, and reproductive difficulties.2 At school-age, these same children are found to have lower IQ scores.2

To reduce the risk of pollutant-damage to your unborn it is imperative that women planning to have children at any time in life begin a healthy low-pollutant diet when they themselves are young children.  Men are not exempt from this directive – a man’s sexual abilities and, ultimately, potency can be seriously impaired by the pollutants in his diet.

POPs Devastate Children

Children are not simply small adults.  They take in more food, and thus more chemicals, relative to their body weight than adults do; and their developing tissues are more sensitive to the effects of the pollutants.   As a result, estimates are that 50% of lifetime exposure to pesticides occurs during the first 5 years of life.2

Once born, the ideal food for an infant is breast milk.  Unfortunately, mother’s milk has been declared a health hazard because of POPs – infants suckling from mother’s breast receive huge quantities of pollutants she has been accumulating all of her life.  Mother’s milk is inherently high in fat; therefore, chemicals are attracted to and concentrated by her milk-fat (bio-accumulation).  Levels of pesticides may be 6 to 7 times higher in her breast milk than in her blood.2

These POPs are so efficiently delivered to the baby that approximately 20% of the mother’s lifelong burden of pesticide is transferred to her infant over the first 3 months of breast feeding.5 Countries which have taken steps to ban POPs show a decline in levels of these chemicals in the breast milk of their citizens. The message to all families is to teach your children that they must take steps now to keep their bodies clean – the life and health of their future families depends on prudent planning.

(Note: Even though the milk is polluted, breast milk is still essential for your baby and formula should almost never be substituted – despite the contamination. See the McDougall Program for Women book).

Brain Damage from POPs

Most pesticides work by interfering with the nervous system of the insect, so findings of decreased mental (cognitive) function in people exposed to pesticides and other environmental chemicals (like PCBs) should be no surprise.6,7,8, Convincing examples of this toxicity to the brain are seen in people who work with these chemicals; for example, sheep farmers who were exposed to organophosphate pesticides in the course of dipping sheep to rid them of infestations performed significantly worse than non-exposed farmers in tests to assess sustained attention and speed of information processing.9

Parkinson’s disease is a common brain disorder affecting approximately 1% of the population of the USA over 65 years of age.  Studies show that exposure to pesticides causes Parkinson’s disease in humans.10,11 The mechanism behind this damage has also been largely revealed.  The enzyme systems that metabolize these brain-damaging chemicals, like the herbicide Paraquat, have been identified.  Estimates are 5 to 10% of people from white populations are poor metabolizers of these chemicals, because they have undetectable enzyme activity – this is a genetic trait.  In these unfortunate people, the chemical remains in their system causing insidious brain damage over many years of exposure.

Decontaminating Your Body

The key to removing the pollution from your body is to remove these POPs from your surroundings.  First, you need to understand that 89% to 99% of these chemicals gain access to your body through your food.  More importantly, the foods with the highest levels of contamination are those foods high on the food chain – meat, poultry, fish, and dairy products.5,7,21-23

The reason these animal foods are the primary source of pollution is because their fatty tissues attract and concentrate chemicals – a process known as bioaccumulation. The poisons are concentrated as they move up the food chain resulting in biomagnification of the chemical threat.

Plant foods are of low risk to you. Contamination of plants with pollutants is largely a surface phenomenon resulting from spraying herbicides and pesticides on the plant or particles carried by air or water to the surface of the plant.24 Therefore, most of the contaminants can be removed by thoroughly washing and peeling these plant foods before cooking and eating.

You also need to avoid sources of pollution found in your home and workplace.  Get rid of the chemicals around your house and look for nontoxic ways to control pests.  Further information is easily found by searching the Internet for “nontoxic pest control.”

Benefits of Organic Foods

Organic farming practices are intended to protect farm workers, ensure food safety, and minimize the environmental effects of pesticides.   In general, organic agriculture produces foods without the use of synthetic chemicals.  Although improved nutritional quality of organic produce is often argued,25 providing the cleanest foods for your family is the primary reason to spend the extra time shopping for and money you invest in buying organic produce.

Meat and poultry can carry the label “certified organic.”  Organic meat, poultry, egg, and dairy products come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones, and are processed without the use of bioengineering or ionizing radiation.  However, the POP content of the “certified organic” animal foods will depend upon the level of pollution in the animals’ feed.  Meat and poultry certified organic are supposed to be raised on “organic feed,” and therefore should have less POP contamination.  Among the worst examples of polluted animal food comes from “farmed” salmon.35 The high levels of POPs in the feed given to the farmed salmon makes them “toxic” compared to ocean-caught salmon. Because of biomagnification of POPs from the environment, animal foods, regardless of the efforts to grow and/or harvest them “clean,” will provide a greater source of contamination than plant foods raised with similar efforts.

Detoxification by a Healthy Diet

The human body has detoxification systems that have evolved over 300 million years to protect animals from the natural toxins found in plants.  These same systems will also rid your body of synthetic pollutants. These natural detoxifying compounds are found in plants, and they are also potent inhibitors of chemically-induced cancer.29-32 In addition, the energy required for the detoxifying processes is most effectively provided by clean burning carbohydrates – carbohydrates are found in plants (meat, fish, poultry and vegetable oils have no carbohydrate and cheese has only miniscule amounts).  Not surprisingly, malnutrition from under- and over-nutrition (such as when people eat the American diet), almost invariably leads to a reduced capacity to deactivate these pollutants and therefore increases their toxicity.32

Losing weight on any “diet” releases stored pollutants as the body fat is dissolved.33,34 This is good, especially when the diet you are using to cause the weight loss is free of pollutants and full of detoxifying substances – meaning a diet of starches, fruits and vegetables – and even better, a diet focusing on organic vegetable produce.

Unfortunately, the most popular diets these days – Atkins, South Beach, Zone, etc. – are centered around the most contaminated of all foods – meats and dairy products.  Can you see the futility of trying to “clean your body” by loading it up with “dirty foods?”  At the same time that you may be losing weight and releasing toxins into your bloodstream, you are filling it up with POPs from every mouthful of polluted food.

Special Cleansing Programs?

Most “cleansing programs” warn against eating animal foods and recommend organically grown plant foods.  I support that foundation.  However, many of these programs also recommend colon cleansing, coffee enemas, vitamin supplements, and special “super” foods (like barley green) as an integral part of their therapies.  I have not found scientific support for adding any of these approaches to the benefits of simply eating a healthy diet.  Saunas and skin-cleaning are also recommended to eliminate the poisons through the skin.  Although this approach may be of some benefit, scientific support is again lacking.  Water “fasting” could be a speedy way to eliminate body fats holding on to pollutants.  However, this form of extreme undernutrition lacks the energy from carbohydrates which is necessary for removing synthetic chemicals, as well as lacking the “natural” detoxifying compounds which are plentiful in plants.  Therefore, at the risk of appearing redundant I recommend – as I do with so many other troubles affecting people – that you eat a simple and clean diet of starches, vegetables and fruits – and add some exercise to increase safe fat loss.


1)  Younglai EV, Foster WG, Hughes EG, Trim K, Jarrell JF. Levels of environmental contaminants in human follicular fluid, serum, and seminal plasma of couples undergoing in vitro fertilization.  Arch Environ Contam Toxicol. 2002 Jul;43(1):121-6.

2)  Weiss B, Amler S, Amler RW  Pesticides.  Pediatrics. 2004 Apr;113(4 Suppl):1030-6.

3)  Guo YL, Lambert GH, Hsu CC, Hsu MM.  Yucheng: health effects of prenatal exposure to polychlorinated biphenyls and dibenzofurans.  Int Arch Occup Environ Health. 2004 Apr;77(3):153-8. Epub 2004 Feb 13.

4)  Smrcka V, Leznarova D.  Environmental pollution and the occurrence of congenital defects in a 15-year period in a south Moravian district. Acta Chir Plast. 1998;40(4):112-4.

5) Duarte-Davidson R, Jones KC.  Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in the UK population: estimated intake, exposure and body burden. Sci Total Environ. 1994 Jul 11;151(2):131-52.

6)  Schantz SL, Widholm JJ, Rice DC.  Effects of PCB exposure on neuropsychological function in children.  Environ Health Perspect. 2003 Mar;111(3):357-576.

7)  Patandin S, Lanting CI, Mulder PG, Boersma ER, Sauer PJ, Weisglas-Kuperus N.  Effects of environmental exposure to polychlorinated biphenyls and dioxins on cognitive abilities in Dutch children at 42 months of age.   J Pediatr. 1999 Jan;134(1):33-41.

8)  Paolini M, Sapone A, Gonzalez FJ.  Parkinson’s disease, pesticides and individual vulnerability.  Trends Pharmacol Sci. 2004 Mar;25(3):124-9.

9)  Stephens R, Spurgeon A, Calvert IA, Beach J, Levy LS, Berry H, Harrington JM.  Neuropsychological effects of long-term exposure to organophosphates in sheep dip. Lancet. 1995 May 6;345(8958):1135-9.

10) Elbaz A, Levecque C, Clavel J, Vidal JS, Richard F, Amouyel P, Alperovitch A, Chartier-Harlin MC, Tzourio C.  CYP2D6 polymorphism, pesticide exposure, and Parkinson’s disease. Ann Neurol. 2004 Mar;55(3):430-4.

11) Menegon A, Board PG, Blackburn AC, Mellick GD, Le Couteur DG.  Parkinson’s disease, pesticides, and glutathione transferase polymorphisms.  Lancet. 1998 Oct 24;352(9137):1344-6.

12)  Guallar E, Sanz-Gallardo MI, van’t Veer P, Bode P, Aro A, Gomez-Aracena J, Kark JD, Riemersma RA, Martin-Moreno JM, Kok FJ; Heavy Metals and Myocardial Infarction Study Group.Mercury, fish oils, and the risk of myocardial infarction. N Engl J Med. 2002 Nov 28;347(22):1747-54.

13) Rozati R .  Role of environmental estrogens in the deterioration of male factor fertility.  Fertil Steril. 2002 Dec;78(6):1187-94.

14) Blackwood A, Wolff M, Rundle A, Estabrook A, Schnabel F, Mooney LA, Rivera M, Channing KM, Perera FP.  Organochlorine compounds (DDE and PCB) in plasma and breast cyst fluid of women with benign breast disease.  Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 1998 Jul;7(7):579-83.

15)  Aronson KJ, Miller AB, Woolcott CG, Sterns EE, McCready DR, Lickley LA, Fish EB, Hiraki GY, Holloway C, Ross T, Hanna WM, SenGupta SK, Weber JP. Breast adipose tissue concentrations of polychlorinated biphenyls and other organochlorines and breast cancer risk. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2000 Jan;9(1):55-63.

16)  Mitra AK, Faruque FS, Avis AL.  Breast cancer and environmental risks: where is the link?  J Environ Health. 2004 Mar;66(7):24-32, 40; quiz 41-2.

17)  Ahmed SA.  The immune system as a potential target for environmental estrogens (endocrine disrupters): a new emerging field.  Toxicology. 2000 Sep 7;150(1-3):191-206.

18)  Voccia I, Blakley B, Brousseau P, Fournier M.  Immunotoxicity of pesticides: a review.  Toxicol Ind Health. 1999 Jan-Mar;15(1-2):119-32.

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The process in which chemicals become associated with solid phase with a three dimensional surface. (Strumm and Morgan).
The process in which chemicals become associated with solid phase with a two dimensional surface. (Strumm and Morgan).
1. Small droplets or particles suspended in the atmosphere, typically containing sulfur. They are usually emitted naturally (e.g., in volcanic eruptions) and as the result of anthropogenic (human) activities such as burning fossil fuels. 2. The pressurized gas used to propel substances out of a container.
Aerosols are solid or liquid particles, suspended in the liquid state, that have stability to gravitational separation over a period of observation. Slow coagulation is implied.
Airborne particulates
Total suspended particulate matter found in the atmosphere as solid particles or liquid droplets. Chemical composition of particulates varies widely, depending on location and time of year. Sources of airborne particulates include: dust,
emissions from industrial processes, combustion products from the burning of wood and coal, combustion products associated with motor vehicle or non-road engine exhausts, and reactions to gases in the atmosphere.
Microscopic plants which contain chlorophyll and live floating or suspended in water. They also may be attached to structures, rocks or other submerged surfaces. They are food for fish and small aquatic animals. Excess algal growths can impart tastes and odors to potable water. Algae produce oxygen during sunlight hours and use oxygen during the night hours. Their biological activities appreciably affect the pH and dissolved oxygen of the water.
Benthic organism or benthos
A form of aquatic plant or animal life that is found near the bottom of a stream, lake, or ocean. Benthic populations are often indicative of sediment quality. The benthos comprise: 1.Sessile animals, such as sponges, some worms and many attached algae 2.Creeping forms, such as snails and flatworms 3.Burrowing forms, which include most clams, worms, mayflies and midges.
The accumulation of pollutants in living organisms by direct adsorption or through food chains.2) Accumulation by an organism of materials that are not an essential component or nutrient of that organism. Usually it refers to the accumulation of metals, but it can apply to bioaccumulation of persistent synthetic substances such as organochlorine compounds. Many organisms, such as plants, fungi and bacteria, will accumulate metals when grown in solutions
containing them. The process can be employed usefully as a purification process to remove toxic heavy metals from waste water and contaminated land.(Source: WRIGHT).
The accumulation of a chemical in tissues of an organism (such as fish) to levels that are greater than the level in the medium (such as water) in which the organism resides.
Bioconcentration factor
The quotient of the concentration of a chemical in aquatic organisms at a specific time or during a discrete time period of exposure, divided by the concentration in the surrounding water at the same time or during the same period.(Source: KOREN).
The increased accumulation and concentration of a contaminant at higher levels of the food chain; organisms higher on the food chain will have larger amounts of contaminants than those lower on the food chain, because the contaminants are not eliminated or broken down into other chemicals within the organisms.
A proliferation of algae and/or higher aquatic plants in a body of water; often related to pollution, especially when pollutants accelerate growth.
Material, other than the principal product, that is generated as a consequence of an industrial process. A chemical substance produced without a separate commercial intent during the manufacture, processing, use, or disposal of another chemical substance(s) or mixture(s).
A green pigment, present in algae and higher plants, that absorbs light energy and thus plays a vital role in photosynthesis. Except in Cyanophyta (blue-green algae), chlorophyll is confined to chloroplasts. There are several types of chlorophyll, but all contain magnesium and iron. Some plants (e.g., brown algae, red algae, copper beech trees) contain additional pigments that masks the green of their chlorophyll.(Source: ALL).
Organic compounds combined with chlorine. These compounds generally originate from, or are associated with, life processes such as those of algae in water.
Any one particular member of a class of chemical substances. A specific congener is denoted by unique chemical structure, for example 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzofuran.
The normally slow aging process by which a lake evolves into a bog or marsh and ultimately assumes a completely terrestrial state and disappears. During eutrophication the lake becomes so rich in nutritive compounds, especially nitrogen and phosphorus, that algae and other microscopic plant life become super abundant, thereby “choking” the lake, and causing it eventually to dry up. Eutrophication may be accelerated by many human activities.
Fungicides Pesticides toxic for fungi.
Herbicides Pesticides toxic for herbs.
Insecticides Pesticides toxic for insects.
A microscopic organism, including bacteria, protozoans, yeast, viruses, and algae.(Source: MGH).
Organochlorine compounds
Synthetic compounds of elemental chlorine and hydrocarbons derived from petroleum. The carbon – chlorine bond is characteristically difficult to break, and the presence of chlorine also lessens the reactivity of other bonds in organic molecules. This characteristic is a distinct advantage in many applications. However, this same property means that, once entered, in the environment organochlorines degrade slowly and instead tend to accumulate.
Persistent pesticides
Pesticides that do not break down chemically or break down very slowly and remain in the environment after a growing season.
An agent used to control pests. This includes insecticides for use against harmful insects; herbicides for weed control; fungicides for control of plant diseases; rodenticides for killing rats, mice, etc.; and germicides used in disinfectant products, algaecides, slimicides, etc. Some pesticides can contaminate water, air or soil and accumulate in man, animals and the environment, particularly if they are misused. Certain of these chemicals have been shown to interfere with the reproductive processes of predatory birds and possibly other animals.
Substances able to directly kill or control an unwanted organism. All the common pesticides share the property of blocking a vital metabolic process of the organism to which they are toxic.
Small, usually microscopic plants (such as algae), found in lakes, reservoirs, and other bodies of water.
Vapor pressure
The partial pressure exerted by the vapor (gas) of a liquid or solid substance under equilibrium conditions. A relative measure of chemical volatility, vapor pressure is used to calculate air-water partition coefficients (i.e., Henry’s Law constants) and volatilization rate constants.
The transfer of a chemical from the liquid to the gas phase. Solubility, molecular weight, vapor pressure of the liquid, and the nature of the air-liquid interface affect the rate of volatilization.


Other Sources:

Persistent Organic Pollutants and Human Health. WFPHA, Washington DC, USA, May 2000. (pdf file)
This publication offers a synthetic overview of environmental and human toxicity of the twelve POPs. Review of Screening Criteria Data for Persistent Organic Pollutants. Dr. B. Rodan, National Center for Environmental Assessment, US EPA, Washington, USA.

Proceedings of the Subregional Awareness Raising Workshop on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs), Bangkok, Thailand, 25-28 November 1997. (htm file)
This article reports bioaccumulation factors, persistence in water and soil for several POPs, including the twelve POPs subject of the international activity to reach a legally binding agreement. Criteria for the identification of POPs. Dr. Bo Wahlstrom, National Chemicals Inspectorate, Solna, Sweden.

Proceedings of the Subregional Awareness Raising Workshop on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs), Lusaka, Zambia, 17-20 March 1998. (htm file)
This article points out primary interest criteria to identify further persistent organic pollutants. Criteria analysed are: volatility, persistence, bioaccumulation, toxicity, long-range transport and bioavailability.

Case study of POPs concentrations in wildlife and people relative to effects levels. (htm file)
Dr. D. Stone, Chief, Environmental Services and Research Division, Hull, Quebec, Canada. Proceedings of the subregional Awareness Raising Workshop on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs), Bangkok, Thailand, 25-28 November 1997.

Health Effects of POPs. (htm file). Dr. J. Stober, Executive Secretary of IFCS, Switzerland. Proceedings of the subregional Awareness Raising workshop on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs), Kranjska Gora, Slovenia, 11-14 May 1998.

Communicating information concerning POPs exposure and risks to an arctic population. (htm file)
Dr. D. Stone, Chief, Environmental Services and Research Division, Hull, Quebec, Canada. Proceedings of the subregional Awareness Raising Workshop on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs), Bangkok, Thailand, 25-28 November 1997.

IARC criteria for evaluating the strength of the evidence for carcinogenicity.

Case study of POPs concentrations in wildlife and people relative to effects levels. (html file)
Dr. D. Stone, Chief, Environmental Services and Research Division. Hull, Quebec, Canada. Proceedings of the subregional Awareness Raising Workshop on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs), Bangkok, Thailand, 25-28 November 1997.

This work describes the significance of persistence, bioaccumulation, and biomagnification in determining environmental levels of POPs.

Case study of POPs concentrations in wildlife and people relative to effects levels. (htm file)
Dr. D. Stone, Chief, Environmental Services and Research Division, Hull, Quebec, Canada. Proceedings of the subregional Awareness Raising Workshop on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs), Bangkok, Thailand, 25-28 November 1997.

Health Effects of POPs. (htm file). Dr. J. Stober, Executive Secretary of IFCS, Switzerland. Proceedings of the subregional Awareness Raising workshop on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs), Kranjska Gora, Slovenia, 11-14 May 1998.

Communicating information concerning POPs exposure and risks to an arctic population. (htm file)
Dr. D. Stone, Chief, Environmental Services and Research Division, Hull, Quebec, Canada. Proceedings of the subregional Awareness Raising Workshop on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs), Bangkok, Thailand, 25-28 November 1997.

IARC criteria for evaluating the strength of the evidence for carcinogenicity.

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2 Responses to “POPs, Dioxins, Furans and Related Pollutants – Intro”

  1. paleo Says:

    Are you advising to go vegan? I’ve read other articles where you promote a traditional paleo diet that contains meat.. explain plz.

  2. admin Says:

    paleo, thanks for your comment. I do not recommend a vegan or vegetarian diet, I do recommend what I eat, a blend of traditional foods (weston price foundation diet, as in grass-fed meat), paleo, vegan diets mixed while avoiding or eliminating sugar, and avoiding grains (especially beans), gluten-containing foods, dairy (except for the occasional raw milk or raw whey protein treat) and as many fresh greens and veggies as you can add into the diet, along with adequate protein intake 3 times a day. As little as possible colorings, preservatives, natural flavors, etc.. Lots of rice, potatoes, meat, veggies, eggs, teas.. No tap water, no pop drinks, no store-bought juices, no candy, no TV dinners, no McDonlands, KFC, BurgerKing, and similar fake and poisonous foods.

    You should not avoid all meat just because mainstream meat has toxins! You should not avoid all food because most mainstream food is toxic and denatured, you will not be able to avoid toxins, your best bet is to eat clean traditional foods like grass-fed and organics and greens and avoid the bad stuff .. on top of that detoxification is needed in today’s world, and iodine, vitamin C, selenium, vitamin D, sun-light, etc.. Many supplements to help you reduce free radicals, control insulin, detox.

    Like I said, a blend of multiple diets and common sense, not vegan.

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