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DOES "DIOXIN" EXIST?

 

TECHNICALLY SPEAKING THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS DIOXIN! IT IS REASONABLE TO SAY THIS, AS THE TERM "DIOXIN" WAS INVENTED BY A JOURNALIST. THE PSYCHOTIC TALE OF THE DREADED "DIOXIN" STARTED WITH AN INDUSTRIAL ACCIDENT IN SEVESO, ITALY IN 1976. THERE WAS AN EXPLOSION THAT RELEASED A MODERATELY TOXIC CLOUD THAT DRIFTED INTO A POPULATED AREA. PEOPLE IN THE SMALL TOWN BECAME SICK AND DEVELOPED SOME SKIN LESIONS AND A FORM OF DERMATITIS CALLED CHLORACNE. TO DATE THERE HAS BEEN NO ELEVATED RISK OF CANCER, ETC.

AT FIRST, NO ONE SEEMED TO KNOW WHAT WAS IN THE TOXIC CLOUD AS THE COMPANY RESPONSIBLE PLED IGNORANCE. OF COURSE THEY DIDN'T WANT TO GET SUED. THIS UNFORTUNATELY CREATED A NEWS VACUUM. INTO THE BREACH STEPPED OUR INTREPID JOURNALIST. WHEN YOU CAN'T FIND ANY REAL INFORMATION - JUST MAKE IT UP.

I VIVIDLY RECOLLECT THE HEADLINES, "SCIENTISTS REVEAL THAT THE SEVESO ACCIDENT RELEASED THE DEADLIEST COMPOUND KNOWN TO MAN - DIOXIN!"

AS A CHEMIST, I HAD NEVER HEARD OF "DIOXIN" AND IMMEDIATELY SENSED A LIE. AFTER ALL, IF THERE WERE SUCH A DEADLY COMPOUND, AND IT HAD SUCH A SHORT, NON-TECHNICAL NAME, IT WOULD BE COMMONLY KNOWN, AND I SHOULD HAVE HEARD OF IT. JUST TO BE SURE I HADN'T BECOME SENILE, I TOOK A LOOK IN THE LITERATURE. SURE ENOUGH, THERE WAS NO SUCH COMPOUND BY THAT NAME. THERE WAS A COMMERCIAL TRADEMARK FOR A COMMON SOLVENT BY THAT NAME, BUT IT HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH A DEADLY TOXIN.

NATURALLY I WASN'T THE ONLY CHEMIST TO QUESTION THE ORIGIN OF "DIOXIN". THE JOURNALIST WAS QUIZZED AS TO WHO HAD TOLD HIM OF THIS NEW COMPOUND. NATURALLY HE REFUSED TO NAME HIS "SOURCE". HE SHOULD HAVE GONE TO JAIL FOR THE TROUBLE HE CAUSED.

THE ITALIAN GOVERNMENT STARTED MONITORING HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE AND SPENT HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS TO "CLEAN UP" THE "WORLD'S DEADLIEST TOXIN".

THEN SOMETHING EVEN MORE PSYCHOTIC HAPPENED. AN AMERICAN PROFESSOR SHOWED UP TO "DETERMINE WHAT DIOXIN WAS". THINK ABOUT IT, THAT'S CRAZY. IT WAS PSYCHOTIC NONSENSE AT ITS WORST. HE STARTED TESTING LEAF SAMPLES AND AT FIRST FOUND NOTHING OF SIGNIFICANCE. BY THE TIME HE HAD GOTTEN THERE THE MODERATELY TOXIC CLOUD WAS LONG GONE AND THERE WAS VERY LITTLE OF ANYTHING LEFT. OF COURSE THIS DIDN'T DETER HIM. HE EVENTUALLY FOUND SOME CHLORINATED HYDROCARBONS AT EXTREMELY LOW LEVELS, AT ABOUT ONE BILLIONTH OF AN OUNCE PER SQUARE INCH.

HE IMMEDIATELY DECLARED THAT HE HAD "DISCOVERED" WHAT "DIOXIN" WAS. HE HAD NO REAL IDEA HOW TOXIC "DIOXIN" WAS, BUT HE DECIDED THAT SINCE THE COMPOUND WAS PRESENT AT SUCH LOW CONCENTRATIONS AND WAS A CHLORINATED HYDROCARBON, IT MUST BE WHAT HE WAS LOOKING FOR, AS NOTHING ELSE KNOWN COULD EXPLAIN THE "EXTREME TOXICITY OF DIOXIN". HE APPARENTLY ACTUALLY SAID THAT!

THEN ANOTHER PROFESSOR SHOWED UP AND FOUND ANOTHER, SLIGHTLY DIFFERENT CHLORINATED HYDROCARBON AT COMPARABLY LOW CONCENTRATIONS. HE TOO CLAIMED TO HAVE DISCOVERED "DIOXIN". AT THIS POINT, THE SNIPING BECAME SEVERE AS THEY BOTH TRIED TO CLAIM THE HONORS OF DISCOVERING THE "REAL DIOXIN". THERE WAS NEVER ANY BASIS TO AGREE ON WHAT "DIOXIN" WAS.

THEN PEOPLE STARTED FINDING THE "DREADED DIOXIN" JUST ABOUT EVERYWHERE. IT TURNED OUT THAT MINUTE AMOUNTS OF THESE CHLORINATED HYDROCARBONS ARE THE RESULT OF ORDINARY COMBUSTION AND CAN BE FOUND ANYWHERE FROM YOUR FIREPLACE TO AN INDUSTRIAL BOILER - IF YOUR INSTRUMENTATION IS SENSITIVE ENOUGH. THEY WERE FOUND IN "AGENT ORANGE" AND MANY OTHER COMPOUNDS IN SUCH LOW LEVELS THAT NO ONE HAD EVER NOTICED THEM BEFORE. THOSE CHLORINATED HYDROCARBONS HAVE BEEN AROUND SINCE THE BEGINNING OF TIME.

OF COURSE THIS DIDN'T STOP THE ENVIRONMENTAL MOVEMENT FROM USING THE "DREADED DIOXIN" TO SCARE THE DAYLIGHTS OUT OF PEOPLE, AND SHAKE US DOWN FOR CASH. THE DISINFORMATION CONTINUES TO THIS DAY. IN SPITE OF THE FACT THAT "DIOXIN" DOESN'T REALLY EXIST.

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