Dioxins "remain a health risk" in EU

European Commission study finds several groups still vulnerable despite consistent emissions cuts

European background levels of dioxins are still such that subtle health effects may occur in the general population of the EU, even though exposure has decreased steadily over the last two decades, according to an assessment published by the European Commission yesterday.

The study, carried out for the Commission and the UK environment ministry, says that, while 95-98% of human exposure to dioxins is through food consumption, dietary exposure to the substances has been reducing at between 9% and 12% a year over the last twenty years as EU legislation aimed at reducing the release of dioxins into the environment has been implemented.

In spite of the reductions, the study concludes that some individuals or sectors of the community might be "at risk". These include people who consume higher than average amounts of fat through fish, meat and dairy products, and can accumulate dioxins because the chemicals are fat soluble and persistent.

The data also show that first-born, breast-fed infants up to two months old, may be exposed to levels of dioxins of between 27 and 144 times World Health Organisation (WHO) recommended limits, without taking account of dioxin-like PCBs. The report stresses that the WHO figures are based on lifetime exposure, but expresses concern that such high exposure levels could occur at critical periods for child development.

The Commission makes a series of recommendations in the light of the findings, with the aim of reducing human exposure in the short term and keeping exposure at safe levels in the medium to long term.

These include the establishment and implementation of maximum tolerable concentrations of dioxins and dioxin-like compounds for key foodstuffs across EU member states; identification of the main sources of dioxins in the diet of southern European member states with the aim of ensuring that policy is relevant throughout the EU; encouragement of member states to instigate a system of public information on the concentration of dioxins in particular foodstuffs; and that a cost benefit analysis be carried out to optimise the control of dioxin releases to the air and water from the main industrial sources, so building on the actions and regulations of individual member states with the aim of harmonising them.

Follow Up:
European Commission, tel: +32 2 299 1111.

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