Household waste incineration linked to cancer

French epidemiological study shows "remarkable" evidence of public health impacts

French scientists have detected elevated cancer rates among people living close to a municipal waste incinerator, sparking new calls for an end to further expansion of waste burning installations. The scientists claim that this is one of the first studies to link incinerator dioxin emissions with health damage in the general population and describe their results as "remarkable".

Published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, the epidemiological study focuses on people living close to Besançon, eastern France. The town's local waste incinerator emitted over 16 nanograms of dioxin per cubic metre (ng/m3) of flue gases in 1997. This is 160-fold higher than a 0.1 ng/m3 legal limit introduced in France in 1998, which will apply EU-wide within five years under a directive adopted earlier this year (ENDS Daily 14 July).

Dioxin emissions in the region of tens of nanograms per cubic metre are typical of older municipal waste incinerators, some of which used to emit up to several hundred nanograms. Stricter EU controls were introduced in the mid-1990s and some older plants have been shut. Controls are to be further tightened under the new directive, which will cut EU incinerator dioxin emissions from 1,500 grams to just 11 grams per year by 2005, according to the European Commission.

Meanwhile, many French incinerators are still emitting far higher levels of dioxins than the national 0.1 ng/m3 limit, says environmental group the National Centre for Independent Information on Waste (Cniid). The organisation publicised the Besançon epidemiological study yesterday, claiming that it showed France's 250 existing incinerators could prove a major public health problem. Cniid says that construction of between 30 and 50 new municipal waste incinerators is currently planned.

Follow Up:
American Journal of Epidemiology, tel: +1 410 223 1600; Cniid, tel: +33 1 55 78 28 60. See also French environment ministry's data on dioxin emissions from large MSW incinerators.

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