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Lungs health

Fire in Mortara, health risks

January 1, 2018

Yesterday morning, in the industrial area of Mortara, in the province of Pavia, a large fire has developed in a company that deals with the disposal of special and hazardous waste.


The mayor of Pavia, Attilio Visconti, said that rubber and plastic were also burning in the fire, and therefore there is a risk of developing dioxin.


With the help of Dr. Francesca Puggioni, a pulmonologist from Humanitas, we try to understand what risks the respiratory system may be exposed to and what the development of dioxin would entail, if it is confirmed.


Health risks

‘The most dangerous substances for the respiratory system are sulfur fumes, as they increase inflammation levels in the bronchial system and can cause severe asthmatic attacks, and nitrogen oxides, able to penetrate deep into the lung tissue, causing irreversible damage. Inhalation is associated with outbreaks of chronic respiratory diseases such as bronchial asthma or chronic obstructive bronchitis.


These substances, once they enter the respiratory system, can reach the blood by increasing the inflammation of our entire organism and induce, in subjects at risk, acute cardiovascular diseases such as stroke and heart attack. Obviously, the danger of these substances is related to the dose we come into contact with and the length of exposure, explains the specialist.

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What are dioxins?

Dioxins are semi-volatile substances, extremely resistant to chemical and biological degradation. Some of their characteristics make them easily transportable by the wind, increasing the risk to contaminate places far from the emission area. They can then accumulate in the tissues and organs of humans and animals.


The Ministry of Health emphasizes in the publication “Dioxins, Furans and PCBs” that ‘dioxins can cause a chronic pollution, almost ubiquitous and can give rise to events that, with a new meaning of the term, we could define environmental emergencies’.


‘Dioxins’ – it is written – ‘are unwanted by-products of a series of chemical and/or combustion processes’.

The presence of dioxin, even in the lowest concentrations, can have consequences on human health

From the studies conducted so far, and based on the available data, the following risks emerge: reduction and damage of lymphocytes, which are cells of the immune system that play an important role in defending the body; additionally, damage to the fetus in pregnant women and damage to the endocrine system.

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