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The fear of dioxins and furans

Coinciding with the crisis of modernist culture, the conviction arises that scientific progress produces a certain but unpredictable risk. The man of our days not only fears the natural catastrophes that the ancestral experience has brought before his eyes, he also fears the scientific-technological catastrophes, which are the testimony of the danger that scientific advances contain.

He does not doubt that this new fear can materialize anywhere and as a consequence of any product or activity. Nor does it accept that the lack of tests, capable of showing any harmful effect, is sufficient to guarantee the safety of the products with which it must live. He intuits the possibility that future studies will be able to prove otherwise. Perhaps it is “dioxins” and “furans” that best represent these types of diffused fears.

The term “dioxins / furans” refers to a group of 210 organic compounds made up of hydrogen, oxygen, carbon and chlorine, of which 75 are chlorinated dibenzoparadioxins and the remaining 135 are chlorinated dibenzofurans. All of them have a molecular structure that is characterized by being flat, due to the union of two aromatic rings by two oxygen atoms, in the case of dioxins, and by one, in the case of furans. These three-ring aromatic molecules have similar physical properties and chemical behavior, although their toxicity varies with the number of chlorine atoms contained in the molecule and with the position they occupy.

Its high solubility in lipids and low solubility in water gives rise to an accumulation of dioxins / furans in fatty tissues, a property that facilitates their incorporation, through the diet, into predatory animals located in the upper levels of the chain. trophic. The great chemical stability that these compounds have allows them to remain in the environment for very long periods of time, and the low volatility justifies their presence in the atmosphere, in water and in soil.

Since the beginning of the 20th century, these compounds have been known to be extremely toxic, and it was considered that they should not be produced due to their high risk.

Dioxins / furans have never been intentionally manufactured, except for analytical purposes and for research activities. They are present in the environment due to the activity of nature itself, and as an unwanted result of various industrial processes and urban activities in which they are formed. The problems caused by these compounds are closely related to the formation of by-products in manufacturing processes and waste management.

There is a group of compounds, which were used or are being used for different purposes, among whose impurities dioxins / furans appear in extremely small quantities. This is the case with pentachlorophenol used to preserve wood, with chlorinated phenoxy acids used in the formulation of herbicides and for war purposes in the Vietnam War, with chlorinated biphenyls from transformers or with the insecticide called lindane. In other chemical manufacturing processes, these pollutants are formed, and their main destination is wastewater, as occurs in the bleaching of pulp with chlorine, the manufacture of vinyl chloride or the nickel, magnesium or aluminum industries . Incineration, especially waste, or certain processes involved in obtaining steel, are examples of dioxin / furan emissions to the atmosphere. Likewise, significant quantities of these pollutants are found in the landfills destined for the waste that is formed in this type of facilities.

Accumulation in soils, sediments, organic matter or landfills, together with the persistence of dioxins / furans, makes these pollutant receptor systems act as secondary sources, due to their ability to mobilize and redistribute them, contributing to their location in the most of the planet and can make its effects felt to the different terrestrial and maritime organisms.

Despite its ubiquity and the various accidents that have occurred, in which the population has been exposed to levels of dioxins / furans much higher, one hundred or one thousand times higher, than usual, there has not been any episode that can be qualify as disaster or serious, in terms of human damage. The current perceived risk is due to its long-term harmful effects.

Numerous research programs have been launched to identify and quantify generation processes, to measure emissions to the atmosphere and water or the quantities that accompany waste, to determine concentrations in the environment, to know the concentration in the different foods that make up the human diet, to determine the levels of exposure of individuals, to study the toxicological aspects and mechanisms of elimination by the human body and to improve the methods of analysis and control.
All these studies are the basis for determining the risks, for establishing prevention programs and for modifying the legislation that regulates their formation and issuance.

It is likely that the difficulties involved in these tasks, and the interest shown by the media, have contributed to an excessive importance for some, and to the creation of distressing situations, in the face of certain facilities that have been associated and to certain products with which they have been related, for others.

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Hello Readers, I am Nikki Bella a Psychology student. I have always been concerned about human behavior and the mental processes that lead us to act and think the way we do. My collaboration as an editor in the psychology area of ​​Well Being Pole has allowed me to investigate further and expand my knowledge in the field of mental health; I have also acquired great knowledge about physical health and well-being, two fundamental bases that are directly related and are part of all mental health.

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