Dioxin is a highly toxic and persistent substance that is the unintentional by-product of medical waste incineration and PVC plastic production. Other sources of dioxin include paper and pulp mills, municipal incinerators, cement kilns that burn chemical waste, and the manufacturing of some chlorinated pesticides.
Dioxin is a known human carcinogen. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the general population exposure to dioxin may cause a lifetime cancer risk that is 1,000 times higher than the EPA's "acceptable" risk level. Other health problems associated with dioxin exposure include birth defects, learning disabilities, endometriosis, infertility, suppressed immune function, reduced IQ, and hyperactive behaviour in children.
In 1994, the U.S. EPA estimated that medical waste incinerators were the leading source of dioxin air pollution. While no longer a leading source of dioxin pollution — thanks to the closure of thousands of medical waste incinerators due to grassroots activism and federal pollution standards — medical waste incineration is still a source of dioxin pollution, due to the large amount of disposable PVC plastic products used by hospitals.
HCWH continues to work toward eliminating the health care sector's contribution to dioxin pollution by advocating for the closure of medical waste incinerators and the phase out of PVC plastic products.
To learn more about non-incineration treatment options for the disposal of medical waste, see the Alternatives to Incineration page.