Ingredient Investigation: Dioxins

Dioxins are recognized by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as being “highly toxic” and a known carcinogen, yet most of us are being exposed to them constantly. It’s time we had a little chat about dioxins.

What are dioxins?

Dioxins are a large group of chemical compounds that are similar to one another in molecular structure. They are unintentionally (read: accidentally) made by a variety of industrial processes including chlorine bleaching of materials such as cotton or wood pulp, the manufacturing of some pesticides and herbicides, and burning of waste. While there are many chemicals that belong to this group called dioxins, there is one that is recognized as being the most dangerous. It is known simply as “dioxin” or TCDD (2, 3, 7, 8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin).

Ever heard of Agent Orange?

This most dangerous dioxin, TCDD, was made famous (or should we say, infamous) as a contaminant in the widely used chemical warfare weapon, Agent Orange, in the Vietnam War. Agent Orange was created as an herbicide and was used to decimate the Vietnam jungles so that the opposing forces would not be able to use the natural foliage as protective coverage. It accomplished its intended purpose but came with some very serious and long-term consequences.

Vietnam War veterans that came into contact with this herbicide and the Vietnamese people have suffered from extremely damaging and fatal health issues. Agent Orange has been the cause of countless cases of cancer, birth defects, and Parkinson’s disease.

The land in Vietnam that was sprayed with Agent Orange is now considered to be some of the most toxic real estate in the world.

Montsanto, Dow Chemical, and Dupont were the primary manufacturers of Agent Orange. These three companies still exist as successful mega-corporations. They now manufacture pesticides and herbicides that are used on many of our conventional, non-organic food crops.

Where are dioxins found?

Even if you aren’t a Vietnam War vet and don’t live in Vietnam, you are still being exposed to dioxins - and probably more often than you’d think. Dioxins can be found in:

Why should you give a darn if dioxins are hanging around in your house?

Dioxins are classified as persistent environmental pollutants (POPs), meaning that they do not degrade easily. They are highly chemically stable so once they’re out there in the world, they exist for a long, long time. They tend to be stored in the fatty tissue of animals. It has been observed that the higher an animal is on the food chain, the higher the concentration of dioxins. Here’s lookin' at you, humans.

Exposure to dioxins can cause:

  • cancer
  • liver disease
  • chloracne
  • darkened skin patches
  • hormonal imbalance (irregular menstrual cycle, )
  • reproductive issues (lowered sperm count, difficulty
  • birth defects
  • loss of muscle control
  • weakened immune system

What can you do now?

While dioxins are widespread, you can certainly do your part to limit your exposure to them. Luckily, there are great alternative products to the ones listed above.

  1. use organic cotton products, especially tampons & pads
  2. purchase paper products that are labeled TCF (totally chlorine-free)
  3. look for products that have been alternatively whitened with hydrogen peroxide
  4. consume organic produce that has not been treated with pesticides & herbicides
  5. avoid conventional animal fats

Over the next few months we have committed to replacing dioxin laden products in your home with better, safer alternatives. Back to Basics subscribers will receive a variety of products to help eliminate those that are contaminated with dioxins. Our February box subscribers received the first wave of them in this month’s box! If you are not yet a subscriber, you can sign up here or purchase these dioxin-free products individually in The Shop.