A look at health concerns connected to dioxins
High levels of dioxins, chemicals linked to birth defects and cancer, might have washed away from a Houston-area Superfund site after a cap meant to contain contaminated sediment was damaged during flooding from Hurricane Harvey, the Environmental Protection Agency said.
The agency said a water sample near the exposed area of the fabric-and-rock cap at the San Jacinto River Waste Pits found dioxins at more than 2,300 times the level that would trigger a cleanup.
What are dioxins? Dioxins are a group of toxic chemical compounds formed primarily during burning and many industrial activities including trash incineration, coal-fired power generation, copper smelting, cement-making and chlorine bleaching of pulp and paper.
Dioxins stay in the environment for a long time, building up and becoming more dangerous as they move up the food chain.
What are the health risks?
The most common and dangerous dioxin — TCDD, an ingredient in the Vietnam War-era defoliant Agent Orange — is linked to lung cancer and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
High levels of dioxins also have been linked to many other health problems, including birth defects, heart disease and diabetes. But even low levels can cause a host of problems, including skin and gastrointestinal issues.
How are people exposed? Everyone is exposed to dioxins in food, air and water, and those who handle pesti- cides and herbicides also may be exposed.
People who live near hazardous waste sites, incinerators and factories can be exposed to high levels. A concern of residents near the San Jacinto River Waste Pits Superfund site is that dioxins don’t dissolve easily in water — and can be washed away in contaminated sediments and deposited over a wider area.