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Dioxins and Furans in Japan’s Environment Essay (Article)


Japan is one of the most industrialized countries in the world and a leading exporter of technology-related products. However, there is a concern that the industrial sector is releasing a high amount of dioxins and furans which are very dangerous to human health. They cause cancer, reproductive health problems, and diabetes among other health-related complications. It is appropriate to find ways of limiting the release of these substances into the environment.


Dioxins and furans are highly carcinogenic materials that often come from the industrial sector as waste substances. According to Harrad (2010), over 210 different furans and dioxins exist under different environmental factors. However, they all have a similar chemical skeleton with a chlorine atom being part of their make-up. They are highly toxic materials that pose serious public health threats (Stringer & Johnston, 2011).

Dioxins and dioxin-like compounds refer to a broad range of compounds with varying levels of toxicity, the most toxic one being 2, 3, 7, 8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin which has a TEF of 1 (Stringer & Johnston, 2011). Studies have shown that Dioxins do not have any direct genotoxic and mutagenic activities. Vallero (2014) defines furans as “a heterocyclic organic compound, consisting of a five-member aromatic ring with four carbon atoms and oxygen.” It is a colorless, highly flammable, and very volatile liquid with a boiling point that is close to that of room temperature.

This compound is very common in the industrial sectors that majorly deal with chemicals. The compound is believed to be carcinogenic. The following figure shows the molecular structures of dioxins and furans.

Dioxin’s structure.
Figure 1: Dioxin’s structure.
Furans’ structure.
Figure 2: Furans’ structure.

Importance of limiting the compound in the environment

It is very important to limit these compounds in the environment because of their serious negative consequences and their behavioral patterns. According to Wittich (2009), the primary health concern of dioxins and furans is that they are highly carcinogenic compounds. They have a behavioral pattern of climbing up the food chain once they are released into the environment. If they find their way into the sea or any large water body, they are taken up by sea animals and plants, including fish.

This is so because of their nature or water-fearing. It means that instead of freely flowing in the water, these compounds quickly find their way into plants and animals in the water. They prefer animals to plants. Fish may get even more intoxicated when they continue to eat other intoxicated plants and animals in the water. If a human eats the contaminated fish, the contamination is transferred to him or her. On land, these compounds may be taken in by animals grazing on contaminated grounds.

The animals may also get affected by breathing contaminated air (Bahadir & Duca, 2009). Any of the dairy products, especially milk and meat, taken from these contaminated animals will transfer the toxins to anyone who takes them. Human beings can also get contaminations directly from contaminated air or water. Studies have shown that individuals who work in chemical manufacturing companies have higher risks of getting affected by these compounds even if they wear protective clothing.

There is always the negligible amount of the compound that finds its way into the system of a human being either orally (eating or drinking contaminated materials), skin contact, or through inhalation (Ishii & Yamamoto, 2013). Errors and accidents are common and they are the main factors that lead to such contaminations. The protective gear may also be ineffective in a way, making it impossible to give 100% protection.

Dealing with these compounds once they are released into the environment is not easy. This is so because they are quickly taken in by plants and animals in the environment. According to Anttila and Boffetta (2014), it is not just people close to the industrial sectors that are at risk of getting contamination from these two compounds. Sometimes the contamination may spread to a wider geographic area with animals being their carrier from one place to another. They can stay in the bodies of these animals for a very long time until they are eaten by other animals. That is why it is very important to ensure that the spread of these compounds limited (Assmuth, 2011).

The best way of doing this is by proper management of wastes by the industrial sectors. Studies have shown that solid waste incarceration plants are some of the leading sources of dioxins. The individual companies whose industrial processes lead to the emission of these dangerous compounds should take the responsibility of managing them. This is so because once the materials find their way to the soil, water, and air outside the premises of their production, then it becomes almost impossible to manage them effectively.

Techniques of Analyzing Dioxins and Furans in the Environment

Dioxins and furans are very undesirable compounds within the environment hence, it is often very important to find ways of dealing with them before they can cause serious health issues to the affected population. According to Anttila and Boffetta (2014), when analyzing dioxins and furans, environmental samples from sewage sludge, sediments, soil, combustion residues (flying ashes), air, and sometimes water are taken for laboratory tests.

In cases where it is believed that the compounds have affected animals in the area, then samples such as milk from cows in that specific region may be taken for laboratory analysis. Other food products such as fish, chicken, and grapes can also be tested for these two dangerous compounds. The following are the scientific ways of analyzing dioxins and furans once the sample is taken.

USEPA Method 1613

According to Vallero (2014), this method is often used in determining tetra- through octa-chlorinated dibezo-furans (CDFs) and dibenzo-p-dioxins (CDDs) in sediment, water, sludge, tissue, soil, and many other samples were taken to the laboratory. The method uses high-resolution mass spectrometry/high-resolution chromatography (HRMS/HRGC) to test the level of the compounds in the samples used (Torgal & Jalali, 2011). This method has been in use for a very long time and is often preferred because it can be used to analyze various compounds. Its accuracy in determining the level of dioxins and furans in the compounds has also been confirmed.

USEPA Method 8280

This method has been in use for some time and it is particularly utilized when analyzing samples that are suspected to have a very low content of dioxins or furan substances. Using the HRGC/LRMS method, this approach makes it possible to detect even the least amounts of these substances in the sample used. The analysis includes Total Homologues, Cl4- Cl furans/dioxins, and various isomers of dioxins and furans.

USEPA Method 8290

This is another popular method of analysis that is used in measuring polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins within the scope of tetra to octa-chlorinated homologues and the polychlorinated dibenzofurans in various samples (Lichtfouse, Schwarzbauer, & Robert, 2013). It uses high-resolution gas chromatography/high-resolution mass spectrometry (HRGC/HRMS) analysis technique. It enables the detection of the number of dioxins and furans compounds in a given sample (Lichtfouse, Schwarzbauer, & Robert, 2013). The method is also very popular because of its level of accuracy in determining these dangerous compounds in the samples taken to the laboratory.

Method 23 and TO-9

Compendium method TO-9 is used for the detection of toxic compounds of dioxins and furans which are in the air. The method was developed in 1989 and has been considered one of the most appropriate methods of determining the level of these two toxic compounds in the air. Just like the other methods, it uses HRGC-HRMS to analyze the samples. This method has been peer-reviewed and is popularly used by large companies and government authorities.

According to Harrad (2010), other numerous methods can be used to analyze samples for dioxins and furans based on some factors. Each of these methods is suitable for different purposes based on several factors. For instance, there are cases where it is suspected that there are negligible amounts of dioxins or furans in a given sample such as air. In such a case, the USEPA Method 8280 is the most appropriate strategy to use. Other methods can also be used, but this specific method works best in such cases where only traces can be detected. Wittich (2009) also says that the nature of the sample sometimes determines the most appropriate method that can be used. Sledge, liquid, air, and soil samples work best in different methods based on their physical nature. However, they have a convenient method of presenting their findings in a way that is easy to understand after an interpretation of the results has been made.

Matrix of Analysis in Japan

Areas in Japan (Most Populated) Matrix Concentration Common Technique of Analysis
Special wards of Tokyo Air 0.2 microgram/m3 TO-9
Water 0.4 micrograms/m3 USEPA Method 8280
Organisms 2.0 micrograms/m3 USEPA Method 1613
Sediments 125 micrograms/m3 USEPA Method 8290
Yokohama Air 0.1 microgram/m3 TO-9
Water 0.3 micrograms/m3 USEPA Method 8280
Organisms 3.0 micrograms/m3 USEPA Method 1613
Sediments 115 micrograms/m3 USEPA Method 8290
Osaka Air 3.3 microgram/m3 TO-9
Water 17.2 micrograms/m3 USEPA Method 8280
Organisms 11.1 micrograms/m3 USEPA Method 1613
Sediments 385 micrograms/m3 USEPA Method 8290
Nagoya Air 5 microgram/m3 TO-9
Water 12.1 micrograms/m3 USEPA Method 8280
Organisms 9.1 micrograms/m3 USEPA Method 1613
Sediments 650 micrograms/m3 USEPA Method 8290
Sapporo Air 4 microgram/m3 TO-9
Water 8.1 micrograms/m3 USEPA Method 8280
Organisms 8.0 micrograms/m3 USEPA Method 1613
Sediments 580 micrograms/m3 USEPA Method 8290
Kobe Air 5 microgram/m3 TO-9
Water 15 micrograms/m3 USEPA Method 8280
Organisms 7.0 micrograms/m3 USEPA Method 1613
Sediments 550 micrograms/m3 USEPA Method 8290

As shown in the above matrix analysis, the amount of dioxins and furans in the water, organisms, sediments, and the air is determined by the number of industries and the nature of their activities in a region. It is also determined by the approach used in managing wastes, especially the plastic materials and those from healthcare facilities. Special wards of Tokyo and Yokohama are highly populated areas in Japan. However, they have a limited number of companies.

The administrations in these municipalities also have very strict waste management policies. These are factors that have directly contributed to a very low level of dioxins and furans in these two regions. The matrix above shows that these two regions have the least detectable amounts of dioxins and furans in air, water, organism, and sediment samples which were tested. On the other hand, Osaka, Nagoya, Sapporo, and Kobe have a high number of industries. This high number of companies directly correlates with the high amounts of dioxins and furans substances in the samples that were taken. This can be attributed to the effluents and emissions from the companies (Zhao, Zheng, & Jiang, 2011).

Impacts of Dioxins and Furans and Their Possible Sources of Contamination

Dioxins and furans have serious impacts on people, animals, and plants. In this discussion, the impact was limited to plants. According to a study by Action (2012), dioxins and furans are believed to be some of the leading causes of cancer because of their carcinogenic nature. Taken in large quantities, they stimulate the growth of cancerous cells within the body. This is one of the primary reasons which makes it a major public health concern.

Dioxins are specifically known to damage the immune system of the affected person making him or her prone to various opportunistic diseases. They are also believed to interfere with the hormonal systems. According to Action (2012), another major concern about dioxins and furans is their impacts on the reproductive system. They are linked to the inability of pregnant mothers to maintain their pregnancies, decreased fertilities, low sperm counts, birth defects, endometriosis, suppression of the immune system, diabetes, lung problems, learning disabilities, lowered levels of testosterone, and skin disorder among many other health complications. The fact that it suppresses the immune system makes it difficult to contain the above health complications.

Sources of contamination vary based on the type of food that one eats and the environment within which a person lives. The figure below shows the main sources of contamination.

Sources of contamination.
Figure 3: Sources of contamination.

As shown in the above chart, beef, dairy, and milk ingestion are some of the leading contaminants through which one can be exposed to dioxins and furans. Chicken, pork, fish, and eggs are also major sources of contamination. Inhalation, soil, and water ingestion are negligible sources. It should be noted that once these toxic substances are released into the environment they easily find their way into animals. We are at a higher risk of getting the contamination from the animal food we eat than we are from being exposed to contaminated air, water, or soil.


Dioxins and furans are some of the most dangerous industrial toxic substances that are released as wastes. They are also released into the air and soil when waste substances, especially those that have plastic materials and wastes from healthcare centers, are burnt. Once these two toxic substances are released into the environment, they find their way into animals living in the contaminated water or those that eat contaminated plants.

People often get contamination by eating contaminated animals or animal products. Beef, dairy, and milk are some of the top sources of contamination. Once ingested, these two substances cause serious health problems based on their level in the body. Cancer, suppressed immune system, diabetes, and reproductive health problems are some of the health issues that are directly caused by this problem. The government needs to work together with the industrial sector and waste management agencies to contain the release of the two substances into the environment in this country.


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IvyPanda. (2020) 'Dioxins and Furans in Japan's Environment'. 2 September.

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