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Photo: Chemists Richard Zaylskie and Janice Huwe process data from a high-resolution GC/MS dioxin analysis. Link to photo information

Read: an article about dioxin research in Agricultural Research

Scientists Learning To Keep Tabs on Dioxin

By Ben Hardin
January 23, 2001

Monitoring a group of toxic chemicals called dioxins in food, livestock feeds and other materials should be less expensive, thanks to new technologies developed by scientists with the Agricultural Research Service.

Dioxins, produced by natural or industrial processes, are chlorinated aromatic compounds that can build up in the fat of humans and animals. They may increase the risk of tumors and possibly cause other undesirable health effects. The dioxin family of about 210 compounds includes 17 that are considered toxic.

The new ARS technologies can detect dioxins in concentrations as low as 0.1 parts per trillion in fat samples.

When ARS scientists at Fargo, N.D., began dioxin research in 1994, analysis cost nearly $2,000 per sample. That cost is now down to about $600-$800 per sample, and ARS researchers are developing an even more efficient procedure that requires minimal use of chemical solvents and is expected to reduce costs of analysis by half.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency began seven years ago to consider the possible importance of air pollution in the dioxin contamination of forage and other livestock feeds. In a USDA fact-finding mission to investigate the extent of dioxin contamination in livestock from all sources, a team of ARS scientists at Fargo researched dioxins in beef produced in 13 states, including Hawaii. The scientists found that most of the samples were “clean,” with some exceptions in the kidney fat of some individual carcasses.

The beef samples that had high dioxin levels were found to have come from animals raised in barns or pens containing posts that had been treated with dioxin-containing pentachlorophenol (penta) to prevent rotting. Now, according to EPA regulations, wood preservatives used for fence posts or feeding troughs in barns can no longer contain penta.

An article about dioxin research appears in the January issue of ARS' Agricultural Research magazine.

ARS is the chief scientific research agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Scientific contact: Janice K. Huwe, Animal Metabolism-Agricultural Chemicals Research Unit, ARS Red River Valley Agricultural Research Center, Fargo, N.D, phone (701) 239-1288, fax (701) 239-1430,