Eggs have Dioxins

A recent study that examined eggs in 20 countries across five continents reveals that Indian chicken egg samples carry the most poisonous chemical known to mankind - dioxins.

Indian chicken egg samples were found to contain five and a half times the amount of dioxin permitted by the European Union. In addition, samples exceeded the proposed limits for PCBs by 4.7-fold. The toxic elements have been found in samples from all countries, clearly pointing to the global nature of the problem. When compared to other countries, the Indian samples were found to have almost five times the amount of dioxins than that found in egg samples from Belarus (Bolshoy Trostenec dumpsite) and Czech Republic (near chemical plant) and almost two-fold higher than those observed in samples from Slovakia (near a municipal waste incinerator). The dioxin levels were slightly low in comparison to those found in eggs collected at the Dandora dumpsite in Kenya. Results from other countries shall be released soon.

Consuming as low as 0.006 pictogram of dioxin (one trillionth part of a gram) per kg of body weight per day can be extremely harmful. Going by the amount of dioxin found in the egg samples (19.8pg/g), an adult weighing 60 kg would ingest 0.0006 g of dioxin/day if he ate two eggs.

That amounts to 0.018g/month and 0.216g/year. This amount keeps on accumulating each year through repeated exposure.

The data was released in India as part of the worldwide campaign “Keep The Promise, Eliminate POPs” initiated by the International POPs Elimination Network (IPEN). The egg samples were collected from near the Queen Mary’s Hospital medical waste incinerator in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh. They were tested in Czech laboratories for the levels of contamination with hazardous toxic chemicals.

The aim of the study was to explore whether free-range chicken eggs might contain unintentional POPs (U-POPs) if collected near potential sources. The neighbourhood of the Queen Mary's Hospital, Lucknow medical waste incinerator in Uttar Pradesh was selected as a sampling site since medical waste incinerators are known to produce dioxins and furans as well as hexachlorobenzene and PCBs.

Chicken eggs were chosen for several reasons: they are a common food item; their fat content makes them appropriate for monitoring chemicals such as POPs that dissolve in fat; and eggs are a powerful symbol of new life. Free-range hens can easily access and eat soil animals and therefore their eggs are a good tool for biomonitoring of environmental contamination by U-POPs.

Although this study represents the first data about POPs in chicken eggs from India, evidence of dioxin finding its way into the food chain is not new. Previous similar studies have also found high levels of dioxin in butter, fish and breast milk in the country.

According to a study by Senthil Kumar et.al (Yokohoma, Japan) in 2001 in which the levels of dioxins were analysed in tissues of human, fishes, chicken, lamb, goat, predatory birds, Ganges river dolphins collected from various locations around the country, dioxin levels in human tissues ranged from 170 to 1300 pg/g , which is capable of causing adverse health effects.

Health Effects
These findings are a cause for concern as dioxins are the most potent toxic chemicals ever studied. Dioxin is known to cause serious health problems, even in small doses. It acts as a powerful hormone disrupting chemical and literally modifies the functioning and genetic mechanism of the cell, causing a wide range of effects, from cancer to reduced immunity to nervous system disorders to miscarriages and birth deformity. The effects can be very obvious such as in chloracne or very subtle. Because it changes gene functions, it can cause so-called genetic diseases to appear, and can interfere with child development. There is no "threshold" dose - the tiniest amount can cause damage, and our bodies have no defense against it. The effects are not limited to one generation but can be seen over generations.

Dioxins and PCBs are classified as POPs - Persistent Organic Pollutants due to the chemical characteristics they possess. POPs include chemicals such as pesticides, industrial chemicals, and unwanted by-products of industrial processes or combustion. The three main traits of POPs are: persistence as they are able to resist degradation for months and even decades; bio-accumulation as they can accumulate in living tissues at levels higher; and potential for long range transport.

They have the potential to travel great distances from the source of release through air, water, and migratory species. The global community has so far acknowledged 12 POPs commonly referred to as “dirty dozen”. These chemical substances cause injury to human health and to species and ecosystems both adjacent to and far away from their sources and therefore warrants immediate action.

Sources and the POPs convention
Dioxins are released into our environment as unintentional by-products from incineration of toxic and urban waste, the manufacture of chlorinated solvents and pesticides, paper and pulp mills, cement kilns that burn chemical waste as well as from production and disposal of the plastic PVC.

Noteworthy is the fact that cutting out fatty meat will not solve the dioxin problem. Phasing out the products and practices that make dioxin will.

The toxic substances measured in the study are slated for reduction and elimination by the Stockholm Convention, which holds its first Conference of the Parties beginning May 2, 2005. India signed the Convention in 2002 but has not ratified it.

The Convention mandates parties to take specific actions aimed at eliminating these pollutants from the global environment. The Convention should be viewed as a promise to take the actions needed to protect Indian and global public’s health and environment from the injuries that are caused by persistent organic pollutants, a promise that was agreed by representatives of the global community: governments, interested stakeholders, and representatives of civil society.

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