Healthcare facilities use many disposable polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic products. If PVC products are incinerated, dioxins are produced, primarily because of the high chlorine content of PVC plastics in the incinerated waste steam.
Dioxins in the Environment
Dioxins are considered persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic compounds (PBTs). Dioxins are created as an unintended byproduct of incomplete combustion, including natural processes (forest fires, volcanoes), or as a contaminant in chemical manufacturing processes. The most toxic and studied dioxin compound is 2,3,7,8- tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (2,3,7,8-TCDD), which has been classified as a known human carcinogen.
When dioxins are released into the air, they can be transported over long distances and are deposited into soil and surface water body sediments. They break down slowly in the environment, accumulate in the food chain, and cause adverse health effects, including cancer, reproductive, and developmental effects. While dioxin levels in the environment have been declining for the last 30 years due to reductions in manmade sources, the compounds are so persistent and degrade so slowly that they will be in the environment for the foreseeable future. Since dioxins bioaccumulate in animals, the route of exposure for the majority of the population (over 90 percent) is through dietary intake of animal fats and dairy products.
PVC Plastic in Healthcare Products
Based upon 1999 New Hampshire dioxin emissions inventory estimates, medical waste incinerators represented the largest single source in the state (approximately 28 percent). While only two medical waste incinerators exist in New Hampshire, red bag waste incinerated out-of-state is still contributing dioxin to the environment. New Hampshire was the first state in the nation to adopt a dioxin reduction strategy . The goal of this strategy is to identify the major sources of dioxin and recommend actions to substantially reduce exposure in New Hampshire. For more information on the New Hampshire Dioxin Reduction Strategy, contact Rick Rumba, DES Air Resources Division at (603) 271-1987 or [email protected].
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