Biomonitoring of incineration emissions
The True Toxic Toll
There is an urgent need to assess the real impact of waste incineration on human health and the environment. People living near waste incinerators need to be reassured about their health risks and the safety of such combustion facilities.” – Janek Vähk, Climate, Energy, and Air Pollution Programme Coordinator at Zero Waste Europe
In Europe, waste incinerators are on the rise, often being promoted as a safe way to dispose of our waste. The way emissions are measured only represents a tiny snapshot of the incinerator’s output – meaning, not all incineration emissions are evaluated.
There is a growing public awareness and concerns over the potentially toxic effects of persistent organic pollutants on human health and the environment. In particular, people living near waste incinerators need to be reassured about their health risks, the safety of such combustion facilities, and compliance with regulations – not only under normal operating conditions but also in other than normal operating conditions, such as start-ups, shut-downs and periods of abnormal operation.
The biomonitoring project
Zero Waste Europe coordinated a biomonitoring research on incinerator emissions across Europe, together with ToxicoWatch, Hnuti Duha, Ziedine Ekonomika, and Ecologists en Accion Spain to find out the real health and environmental impacts of waste incineration emissions.
To assess the real impact of waste incineration on human health and the environment, this research analyses the presence of Persistant Organic Pollutants (POPs) in biomatrices in the surroundings of incinerators by using bioassays. This biomonitoring research focused on POPs like Polychlorinated Dibenzodioxins and Polychlorinated Dibenzofurans (PCDD/F and PXDD/F); Polycyclic aromatic Hydrocarbon (PAH); and Per- and PolyFluoroAlkyl Substances (PFAS).
Our biomonitoring research was based on a careful sampling of biomarker samples in an area. The biomatrices for this study were primarily eggs of backyard chicken eggs, pine needles, and mosses.
The true toxic toll of incineration emissions
The research analysis around three waste incinerators shows an environment under threat by contamination of substances of very high concern in eggs of backyard chicken, pine needles, and mosses.
- The analysis of chicken eggs around incinerators shows that the majority of eggs exceed the EU action limits for food safety as regulated in the EU Regulation 2017/644. The EU regulations urge for action on these sampled egg locations to find out the source of POP contamination, in order to eliminate or – at least – do the utmost to reduce dioxins (PCDD/F) to minimum levels. Moreover, a high percentage of eggs exceed the safe level for consumption. If these eggs were intended for the commercial market, they should have been withdrawn from the market.
- The results of the analysis of the vegetation, pine needles and mosses also show high elevation of dioxin levels in the vicinity of the waste incinerators. Although there is no legal obligation to take action, it’s a sign of pollution. Moreover, people living in the vicinity of incinerators could be under threat if they grow vegetables for consumption.
- This biomonitoring research gives a warning sign for contamination of the environment with toxic substances such as dioxins (PCDD/F), dioxin-like PCBs, PAHs and PFAS.
Zero Waste Europe’s recommendations
Based on the findings of this biomonitoring research, Zero Waste Europe recommends to:
- Make biomonitoring research mandatory for all existing incineration projects across Europe – communities living near waste incinerators need to be reassured about the health and safety risks of all operation stages of an incinerator.
- Mandate continuous measurements of chlorinated and brominated dioxins, including under “other than normal operating conditions” such as start-ups, shut-downs, and technical accidents.
- Put a moratorium on new waste incineration projects and develop phase-out plans for the existing ones.
- Promote and fund circular, healthy, sustainable alternatives to waste incineration.
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