Dioxine Présentation

Medical waste incinerator outside Dakar, Senegal (2008)Les dioxines sont un carcinogène et un polluant organique persistant (POP). Effets sur la santé de l'exposition aux dioxines à des concentrations extrêmement faibles comprennent tous les éléments suivants: cancer, effets sur le système immunitaire, effets sur la reproduction et le développement, et la perturbation des hormones.

The term "dioxin" is used here to refer to both polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins and polychlorinated dibenzofurans, a family of 210 highly toxic and persistent chemicals that are unintentional byproducts of medical waste incineration and PVC plastic production. Other sources of dioxin include paper and pulp mills, municipal incinerators, cement kilns that burn chemical waste, and the manufacturing of some chlorinated pesticides.

Dioxins are a known human carcinogen and a persistent organic pollutant (POP). Health effects of dioxin exposure at extremely low concentrations include all of the following: 

  • Cancer: Chronic lymphocytic leukemia, soft-tissue sarcoma, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, and Hodgkin's disease have been linked to dioxin exposure. There is further evidence of a possible association with liver, lung, stomach, and prostate cancers.
  • Immune system effects: Low exposures to dioxins result in increased susceptibility to bacterial, viral and parasitic diseases.
  • Reproductive and developmental effects: In animals, dioxin exposure causes decreased fertility, decreased litter size and inability to carry pregnancies to term. Maternal exposure results in offspring with lowered testosterone levels, decreased sperm counts, birth defects and learning disabilities. Human studies report lowered testosterone levels in exposed workers and birth defects in children of Vietnam war veterans exposed to dioxins in Agent Orange. Nursing human infants exposed to high dioxin concentrations in breast milk had significantly lower levels of the thyroid hormone necessary for development of the brain.
  • Hormone disruption: Dioxins behaves like hormones by attaching to receptors within cells and blocking natural hormones from binding or interfering with the way natural hormones are made or controlled. Some adverse endocrine effects observed in humans exposed to dioxins include diabetes, altered levels of reproductive hormones and thyroid disease. 

The Stockholm Convention on persistent organic pollutants encourages the promotion of waste treatment processes, techniques and practices that are as effective as medical waste incinerators but avoid the unintentional formation and release of persistent organic pollutants (POPs) like dioxins. The World Health Organization, in its policy paper of August 2004, calls for: "[e]ffective, scaled-up promotion of non-incineration technologies for the final disposal of health-care waste to prevent the disease burden from: (a) unsafe health-care waste management; and (b) exposure to dioxins and furans." 

The goal of this UNDP/GEF project is to protect public health and the global environment from the impacts of dioxin and mercury releases. Project activities are intended to reduce the healthcare sector's contribution to dioxin pollution by helping to improve healthcare waste management systems and demonstrate the effectiveness of non-burn waste treatment technologies in model hospitals within each project country. Learn more about this project.