27 Jun 2022

Written by

Janek Vähk - Climate, Energy and Air Pollution Programme Coordinator at Zero Waste Europe

FAQ: All you wanted to know about the biomonitoring of waste incineration emissions

Climate, Energy & Air Pollution

This Q&A was developed in the context of a Europe-wide biomonitoring research project on persistent organic pollutants (POP) emissions in possible relation to waste (WtE) incineration. We want to help readers understand what biomonitoring is, what is being measured, and other relevant topics. 

What is the biomonitoring of waste incineration emissions?

Biomonitoring is the systematic measurement of compounds (pollutants) in living organisms or products of living organisms in the surrounding environment of an incinerator, with the purpose of identifying or assessing potential hazardous exposure and effects to chemicals. 

What methodology is used for biomonitoring?

For this biomonitoring research, we are using bioassay (DR CALUX® [Dioxin Responsive Chemical Activated LUciferase gene eXpression]) to have a more complete picture of the presence of numerous possible toxic compounds in the environment, for which the chemical analyses are inadequate. In addition, this method is a fast and cost-efficient tool that can be applied for the analysis of a broad scale of pollutants in biomarkers. 

What pollutants are monitored?

In this research, we are investigating the presence of underestimated emissions of toxic compounds such as dioxins, furans and dioxin-like PCBs – as well as PAHs and PFAS. All these compounds are extremely toxic at very low levels, and hard to break down.

What is being biomonitored?

In this research, we sample pine needles, mosses, and chicken eggs – but it’s possible to analyse other biomarkers such as soil, breast milk, etc. 

Is biomonitoring a requirement in  EU / national legislation?

Nearly all the incinerators in Europe are obliged to fulfil biomonitoring by governmental requirements. For example, Article 30 of this French decree (Arrêté 20 September 2002) makes it mandatory for incineration and co-incineration plants to have a monitoring system of the impact on their local environment for at least dioxins and metals. Similarly, the Dutch Environment Management Act requires biomonitoring. 

What kind of samples will be collected?

The research is based on a careful sampling of biomarker samples in an area. The biometrics for this study were primarily eggs of backyard chicken eggs, pine needles, and mosses.

Why is biomonitoring important?

Biomonitoring has become an indispensable tool for studying environmental exposure to chemicals. It presents a wide range of advantages over chemical analysis that is based on analyses of only a few chlorinated dioxins and furans, while many other POPs remain outside the scope, such as brominated dioxins and PFAS. The limitations of the chemical analysis could be overcome with the application of bioassays. 

Where can I find more information about biomonitoring?

Read more about biomonitoring on The True Toxic Toll campaign page.  

How can I get involved with biomonitoring?

Do you want to learn more about it, or need help to carry out an assessment of your own?

Contact us at [email protected].