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New ZWE-led incinerator research finds environment contaminated with highly toxic substances, risking the health of nearby communities

Zero Waste EuropeNew research published today by Zero Waste Europe (ZWE) about incinerators in three countries – Spain, Czechia, and Lithuania – finds a high level of contamination in the vicinity of incinerators, posing a significant risk to the environment and to the health of people living nearby.

To assess the real impact of waste incineration, the biomonitoring research conducted by ToxicoWatch Foundation for ZWE analysed the presence of persistent organic pollutants (POPs) in the surroundings of incinerators in Valdemingómez (Spain), Pilsen (Czechia, and Kaunas (Lithuania).

The study used bioassays, an analytical method to determine the concentration or potency of a substance by its effect on living animals, plants, living cells, or tissues. This particular study used carefully collected biomarker samples – such as eggs of backyard chickens, pine needles, and mosses – in areas around incinerators.

The research found that:

  • The majority of eggs analysed exceed the EU action limits for food safety as regulated in the EU Directive 2013/711/EU.
  • 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 If these eggs were intended for the commercial market, they should have been withdrawn from the market.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 analysis of the vegetation, pine needles, and moses also shows high levels of dioxins in the vicinity of the waste incinerators. This means people living in the vicinity of incinerators could be harmed if they eat vegetables grown in the contaminated soil for consumption.

The research warns of the impacts of the current incineration strategy for human health and highlights the incompatibility of the current incineration heavy strategy with the EU’s zero pollution agenda. It also gives a warning signal for contamination of the environment with highly harmful toxic substances for human health and the environment – such as dioxins (PCDD/F), dioxin-like PCBs, PAHs, and PFAS.

Janek Vähk, ZWE's Climate, Energy, and Air Pollution Programme Coordinator, said: "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."

Based on the report conclusions, ZWE and the research project group strongly recommend to:

  • Make biomonitoring research mandatory for all existing incineration projects across Europe.
  • Mandate continuous measurement of chlorinated and brominated dioxins including under the "other than normal operating conditions" such as start-ups and 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.

Read the full "The True Toxic Toll – Biomonitoring of waste incinerator emissions" reports: here