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What Are the Side Effects of Dioxin?

author image Jamie Simpson
Jamie Simpson is a researcher and journalist based in Indianapolis with more than 10 years of professional writing experience. She earned her B.S. in animal science from Purdue University and her Master of Public Affairs in public management from Indiana University. Simpson also works as a massage therapist and equine sports massage therapist.
What Are the Side Effects of Dioxin?
An oil refinery at night. Photo Credit Adkasai/iStock/Getty Images


Dioxin is introduced into humans through industrial processes such as paper bleaching, burning garbage and herbicides. In addition, dioxin-contaminated foods such as meat and dairy products expose humans to high levels of the chemical. Dioxin lasts a long time in the body because it is stored in fat cells, so it may be released slowly even long after exposure. As a result, it is sometimes difficult to establish a clear link between side effects of dioxin and exposure to the chemical.


According to Dr. Radoslaw Spiewak of the Institute of Agricultural Medicine in Lublin, Poland, the signs of chloracne resemble regular acne, and chloracne is frequently found in people who are exposed to dioxin through pesticides and pesticide spraying. Whiteheads and blackheads form in profuse numbers, and the skin appears inflamed and covered with cysts. Chloracne may begin a few months after exposure to dioxin, and it may take years or decades for the lesions to heal.

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Reproductive System Interference

According to lead researcher Professor Reinhold J. Hutz of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, dioxin disturbs the endocrine balance in the reproductive systems of women in particular. Endometriosis, spontaneous abortion and complicated pregnancies may result from dioxin poisoning in women. Dioxin is also found in breast milk.

Effects of Prenatal Exposure

Babies who have been exposed to high levels of dioxin may be developmentally delayed, have central nervous system problems, or be diagnosed with learning disorders later in life. Both the Birth Defects and Chemical Body Burden websites report that children who have been exposed to dioxin are more likely to be hyperactive or have IQ deficits. These effects may be passed through either the father or the mother, and are compounded by later environmental exposure to dioxin.


According to Christian C. Abnet of the Nutritional Epidemiology Branch, Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics in Rockville, Maryland, dioxin is clearly linked to cancer, especially liver cancer, thyroid cancer, upper digestive tract (stomach) cancer, and skin cancers. Breast cancer also has a clear link with dioxin, according to the Birth Defects website. Abnet also reports that dioxin has been linked to Hodgkin's disease and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, prostate cancer and brain cancer. There is no safe dose or threshold for dioxin, which means any amount could potentially cause cancer.

Other Diseases

Though the links between dioxin and other health problems are less clear, Chemical Body Burden reports that it has been linked to diabetes, immune system problems, increased infections, thyroid diseases, dental problems, high cholesterol, lung problems, skin problems, and many more diseases. Whether dioxin is a direct cause of these diseases is not clear, but high levels of dioxin in body tissues of people suffering from these diseases have been reported.

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