Dioxin alert shuts French waste incinerators

Voynet supports closure, demands faster progress towards compliance with emissions law

Three French municipal waste incinerators have been ordered to close after elevated levels of dioxins were discovered in milk from cows grazing near one of the plants. French environment minister Dominique Voynet has supported the move and demanded immediate action to ensure that other incinerators in France comply with legal standards.

The three incinerators affected are in the area of Lille, close to France's northern border with Belgium. On 21 January, the Nord Pas de Calais prefecture (regional authority) learned of tests showing that milk from cows grazing from 250 metres to 1km from the Halluin municipal waste incinerator had up to three times the admissible levels of dioxins. On Tuesday, the Communauté urbaine de Lille, which covers Lille and its immediate region, ordered the closure of Halluin, along with two neighbouring incinerators at Wasquchal and Sequedin.

Dominique Voynet yesterday strongly supported the decision. The prefecture has been asked not to allow the incinerators to re-start until they have been fully inspected and steps taken to ensure their compliance with a 1991 decree on municipal waste incinerators, she said.

Ms Voynet went further, reminding incinerator operators that the ministry had called for measures to reduce dioxin emissions in a circular distributed to all prefectures last May. "Despite several requests from the ministry...the operators [of the Lille incinerators] have not taken the steps on dioxin emissions that were demanded in prefectoral decrees," she said.

Ms Voynet revealed that she has asked prefectures around the country to take further steps to ensure compliance with the 1991 decree. Where incinerators were not in compliance, she said, they should use penalties at their disposal "as much as necessary".

Environmental groups have welcomed the minister's action. Greenpeace, which has long campaigned on the issue of dioxin emissions from incinerators reaffirmed its demand for a five-year moratorium in the building of new municipal waste incinerators.

Follow Up:
Communauté urbaine de Lille, tel: +33 3 20 21 22 23; French environment ministry, tel: +33 1 42 19 20 21.

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