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Cancer Trends Progress Report – 2007 Update

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Prevention: Environmental Factors

Dioxin levels in the United States environment have been declining for the last 30 years due to reductions in man-made sources.

This information is based on data from the 2005 Cancer Trends Progress Report.

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Dioxins and Cancer

Dioxins are chemicals produced through paper and pulp bleaching; burning of municipal, toxic, and hospital wastes; certain electrical fires; and smelters. Dioxins can also be found in some insecticides, herbicides, wood preservatives, and cigarette smoke. There are at least 100 different kinds of dioxins, including Tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD). The most common routes of exposure for dioxins occur through the diet, particularly from animal fats.

Not all dioxins can cause cancer. TCDD is a particular dioxin that is likely to cause cancer in humans. The general population is exposed to low levels of TCDD primarily from eating dairy products, fish, and meat.

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Measurement of TCDD in human blood adjusting for lipids (Table P2) and toxic release inventory of dioxin releases in the environment (Figure P16).

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Period – 1999–2003 (dioxin releases)

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Dioxin levels in the human body appear to be declining (Table P2). Dioxin levels in the United States environment have been declining for the last 30 years due to reductions in man-made sources. However, dioxins break down so slowly that past releases will remain in the environment for many years. The refore, dioxin levels in the environment will never go to zero (Figure P16).

Table P2. Blood (lipid-adjusted) concentrations of Tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD) (picograms per gram), 1999-2002.

  1999-2000 (pg/g) 2001-2002 (pg/g)
TCDD <LOD, 12.1* <LOD, 5.8*

Source: National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals,
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2005

* For certain chemicals like TCDD, each individual sample has its own limit of detection (LOD), which is the level at which a measurement has a 95% probability of being greater than zero. In 1999-2000 and 2001-2001, 12.1 pg/g and 5.8 pg/g, respectively, represent the maximum LOD among the samples analyzed. Because the geometric mean or average concentration of all the samples for TCDD is less than the maximum LOD, the estimate can be reported as <LOD.

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Most Recent Estimates

TCDD – 5.80 pg/g
Dioxin releases – 8.59 g-TEQ

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Healthy People 2010 Targets

Reduce air toxic emissions to decrease the risk of adverse health effects caused by airborne toxins . A specific numerical level for environmental concentration has not yet been set for dioxin.

Reduce exposure of the population to pesticides, heavy metals, and other toxic chemicals, as measured by blood and urine concentrations of the substances or their metabolites . A specific numerical level for metabolite concentration has not yet been set for dioxin.

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Groups At Risk for Dioxin Exposure

Workers exposed to dioxin-contaminated air are at high risk of exposure. The general population is at risk of inhaling and ingesting dioxins.

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Key Issues

A national goal has been set to reduce and measure dioxins in the environment and in the human body. People can help prevent exposure to dioxins by following existing Federal dietary guidelines, particularly by increasing consumption of fruits, vegetables, and grain products. Certain occupations are at high risk of dioxin exposure.

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Additional Information on Dioxins

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