Introduction

This article provides a scientific overview of the current understanding of the toxicological effects typically observed in vertebrate and invertebrate wildlife exposed to polychlorinated dibenzo-/>-dioxins (PCDDs) and dibenzofurans (PCDFs; collectively referred to as dioxins). This overview includes a brief consideration of plants, though data are limited, because of the importance of food chain transfer for bioaccumulative compounds such as the dioxins. The next section summarizes the physical and chemical properties of dioxins and their environmental fate, which are important to understanding how these compounds elicit toxic responses in birds, fish, mammals, plants, and other aquatic and terrestrial organisms. The subsequent section summarizes what is currently understood about the predominant acute and chronic ecotoxicological effects observed in different taxonomic groups. This article then gives an overview of toxic equivalency factors (TEFs) assigned to different dioxin and dioxin-like compounds and used to evaluate the significance of environmental exposures. The article concludes with a summary of current gaps in knowledge about dioxin exposure and ecotoxicological effects.

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