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.” – Zero Pollution Programme 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.
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 research analysis (2022 and 2021) 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.
Based on the findings of this biomonitoring research, Zero Waste Europe recommends to:
Zero Waste Europe (ZWE) is the European network of communities, local leaders, experts, and change agents working towards the prevention and elimination of waste in our society. We advocate for sustainable systems; for the redesign of our relationship with resources; and for a global shift towards environmental justice, accelerating a just transition towards zero waste for the benefit of people and the planet.
The ToxicoWatch Foundation is dedicated to contribute to a less toxic and healthier world by advancing the science of toxicology and raising awareness of toxic substances of very high concern (SVHC).
ToxicoWatch assists public concern on topics related to dioxins (POPs), hormone disruptors (EDCs), and other environmental pollutants. ToxicoWatch raises public awareness on topics of toxic hazards, health, environment, food, and lifestyle products. ToxicoWatch wants to catalyse the transition towards sustainable development, defined as the enhancement of peace, social justice, and well-being, within and across generations in a toxic-free future.
Ecologistas en Acción is a confederation of more than 300 environmental groups distributed by towns and cities. We are part of social environmentalism, which understands that environmental problems have their origin in an increasingly globalized model of production and consumption, from which other social problems also derive, and that it is necessary to transform if the ecological crisis is to be avoided.
The organisation, which specializes in public mobilization, operates nationwide as well at the international level. In their work, Hnutí DUHA emphasize objectivity, accuracy and fairness.
Žiedinė ekonomika also does educational projects for the youth regarding sustainable consumption and climate change as well as consulting businesses on sustainable production.
I work with the EU institutions to put in place policies at the EU level to ensure that mixed waste is managed sustainably and prevent false solutions.
Email: [email protected]