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Scientific Innovation >> Examples of our Scientific Innovations >> A Pioneer in Dioxins Detection

A Pioneer in Dioxins Detection

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Detecting one part out of 1,000 billion is not the limit

To protect human health, understanding the levels of dioxins in the environment and the food chain is imperative. Eurofins is at the forefront of global efforts to limit our exposure to dozens of dangerous chemicals.

Dioxins and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are toxic chemicals that persist in the environment and accumulate in the food chain. Even at the level of 1/1000000000 to 1/1000000 of a gram, they are considered to pose a serious hazard to humans and the environment. National and international treaties and directives have been passed to minimise or stop their circulation.

Eurofins has led the way in testing and analysis to aid understanding of the levels of dioxins and PCB to which we are exposed. In 1985, the Company was one of the first to start dioxin analysis and, by 2010, became the very first laboratory in Europe able to test for all the persistent organic pollutants (POPs) identified in the 2001 Stockholm Convention. One of Eurofins’ specialities within this operation is the full analysis of 209 separated PCB isomers in one method. This ability is of particular importance for the fish oil industry, as PCBs and dioxins are lipophilic, i.e. soluble in fat, not in water, and therefore accumulate in fat /oil at the end of the food chain in fish.

Dioxin analysis is important across a number of different matrices, including food and feed, human samples, animals, plants, air, industrial products, residues, sludge, and water. Eurofins analyses all of these. However, dioxin analysis is extremely difficult to perform, and the requirement for the detection of very low levels of substance (one part out of 1000 billion others) and the distinction of each substance among the very similar dioxins and PCB molecules necessitates the use of highly sophisticated techniques and advanced equipment.

Heavy investment in research and development has helped Eurofins achieve a market leading position globally, and the Company now analyses around 30,000 dioxin samples per year, performing the highest throughputs worldwide. Eurofins has released more than 750 publications on dioxins and POPs testing to date.

One of the sources of dioxins can be waste incinerators and other “chimney industries”. These burn substances containing chlorine at very high temperatures, creating the conditions for dioxins formation. For this reason, emission gases are sampled and analysed to check that filters and other technical means to avoid dioxin formation are properly functioning. Eurofins companies are world leaders in the area of sampling and analysis of emission gases.

The science behind

PCBs are a compound class of chlorinated aromatic hydrocarbons which consist of 209 individual components. They started being commercially produced in 1929 but were recognised to be harmful in the 1970s and have since been banned or severely restricted. It is estimated that around two million tonnes of PCBs have been produced, about 10% of which still remain in the environment today. Twelve of the PCBs are similar, in terms of molecular biological behaviour, to dioxins and are known as dioxin-like PCBs.