Environmental and health issues
Incineration does not destroy waste – it merely converts it to other forms, such as:
All these contain pollutants that are harmful to our health. That is why they are regulated.
Emissions from incinerators include:
All of these are persistent (degrade very slowly), bioaccumulative (build up in living organisms over time), and toxic.
Much of the dust (including heavy metals) emitted from incinerators is ultrafine. This means that it is easily inhaled and can reach the deepest part of our lungs. This is where it can do the most damage.
Dioxins and PCBs are toxic chemicals that can have severe health effects, especially on the developing foetus and young children. Known health effects include:
The fallout zone for incinerator emissions extends to a radius of 30-40 miles. But by far the greatest risk of exposure to dioxin is through the food we eat.
Dioxin from incinerator emissions settles on vegetation, in soil, and in the oceans, and so enters the food chain.
Animals ingest the contaminated pasture and soil, fish ingest the contaminated water, and the dioxin concentrates and accumulates in their fatty tissues. Then we, in turn, eat the contaminated meat, dairy products, and seafood, and the dioxin concentrates and accumulates in our fatty tissues.
Further up the food chain, mothers pass dioxin to babies in their womb and when breast feeding.
The foods which tend to have the highest dioxin concentrations are dairy products, meat and poultry, eggs, fish, and animal fats.
Currently Ireland has the lowest dioxin levels in Europe, but what will happen to export prices when Irish food is contaminated by dioxins and other poisons from incineration?
The Belgium ‘dioxin crisis’ of 1999 provides a salutary lesson.The Belgian food industry was badly damaged when high levels of dioxin were discovered in eggs and chickens and traced back to dioxin-contaminated animal feed. Import bans by countries worldwide included chicken, eggs, meat, and any products containing eggs or milk. The Belgian government estimated the cost of the crisis at €465 million.
Harbour Alliance for a Safe Environment