2,3,7,8-Dibenzo-P-Dioxins in Mined Clay Products from the U.S.: Evidence for Possible Natural Origin
Ball clay was the source of dioxin contamination discovered in selected chickens analyzed as part of a joint U.S. Department of Agriculture/U.S. Environmental Protection Agency national survey of the U.S. poultry supply conducted in 1997. The affected animals, which had been raised in the southern United States, represented approximately 5% of the national poultry production . All of these chickens and other animal food sources (i.e., farm-raised catfish), similarly contaminated, were fed a diet of animal feed containing ball clay as an anti-caking additive. The clay was mined in northwestern Mississippi within a geological formation referred to as the Mississippi Embayment. Individual raw and processed ball clay samples were analyzed for the presence of the 2,3,7,8-PCDDs/PCDFs. The average toxic equivalents (TEQs) for the raw and processed samples were 1513 and 996 ppt dry weight, respectively. Other mined clay-based products used in animal feeds revealed lower TEQs. All of the products exhibited either an absence of detectable concentrations of 2,3,7,8-PCDFs or concentrations 2-3 orders of magnitude lower than the PCDDs. The isomer distribution, specific isomer identification, and congener profile of the PCDDs in the clay were established and compared to known sources of dioxin contamination. Several unique features of this isomer distribution are characteristic of the clays and are distinguishable from those other known sources. These characteristics found in prehistoric clay deposits in the United States and Germany have led to speculation attributing their presence to natural geologic processes.