Dioxins and furans – performance measurement evaluation

Polychlorinated dibenzodioxins (PCDD) and polychlorinated dibenzofurans (PCDF), more commonly known as dioxins and furans, were first formally assessed by the Government of Canada in 1990, when they were found to be a possible risk to human health and the environment, and defined as toxic under section 11 (a) and (c) of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1988 (CEPA 1988). In 1998, dioxins and furans were also classified as Track 1 substances, meaning they were slated for virtual elimination in Canada.

Dioxins and furans are by-products unintentionally produced from chemical sources (such as wood treatments and pesticides), intentional combustion activities (such as waste incineration and fuel burning), and industrial sources (such as pulp and paper mills and metal production) where they are released to air, water and soil. These substances are persistent and dissolve readily in fats, allowing them to bioaccumulate and biomagnify in the food chain. Foods of animal original are estimated to represent over 90% of human exposures from all sources to dioxins and furans.

Human health effects of dioxins associated with high levels of exposure include skin disorders, disrupted male reproductive function, impacts on thyroid function, and certain types of cancers. Canadians' current exposure to dioxins and furans is below levels that are expected to cause adverse health effects.

Risk management tools and actions, targeting dioxin and furan emissions from pulp and paper mills, metal production, waste incineration, wood preservation industries, and pest control products, were established to reduce dioxin and furan exposures to the general population in Canada. The Government of Canada is also a signatory party to several international agreements focused reducing levels of dioxins and furans, among other persistent organic pollutants.

The performance measurement evaluation found that since these risk management tools and actions came into effect, there has been a reduction in:

  1. Levels of dioxins and furans emitted to, and measured in, outdoor air
  2. Concentrations in foods of animal origin and, as a result, dietary exposure to, dioxins and furans
  3. Concentrations of dioxins and furans measured in human milk

The performance measurement evaluation concluded that overall, risk management tools are meeting their intended goals, and progress has been made towards virtual elimination of dioxins and furans in Canada.

Complete details on the performance measurement evaluation for dioxins and furans can be found in the Performance Measurement Evaluation for Risk Management of Dioxins and Furans.

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