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Environmental and health issues                                       
Incinerators create hazardous waste

Incineration does not destroy waste – it merely converts it to other forms, such as:

  • stack gases
  • minute dust particles
  • ash (much requiring hazardous landfill).

All these contain pollutants that are harmful to our health. That is why they are regulated.

Atmospheric emissions

Emissions from incinerators include:

  • dioxins
  • PCBs
  • heavy metals (lead, arsenic, cadmium, etc.).

All of these are persistent (degrade very slowly), bioaccumulative (build up in living organisms over time), and toxic.

Particulate matter

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.

Health risks

Dioxins and PCBs are toxic chemicals that can have severe health effects, especially on the developing foetus and young children. Known health effects include:

  • cancer
  • impairment of the immune, hormonal, and reproductive systems
  • congenital abnormalities
  • delayed cognitive and motor development in children
  • disruption of critical stages of embryonic development.

Dioxin in the food chain

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.

Economic risks

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.

Significant quotes

"Dioxin is like throwing a hand grenade into our biological mechanisms."
Dr. Paul Connett, Professor of Chemistry, St. Lawrence U. NY State

"Emissions from the incineration process are extremely dangerous. We must use every reasonable instrument to eliminate them altogether".
Michael Meacher, UK Environment Minister

"Releases from incinerators cause a slow, but gradual accumulation of pollutants in the food chain and the human body … health effects may often only become visible and measurable after a long latency period."
L. Hens, Human Ecology Dept, Free University Brussels

"It is generally accepted that emission standards are based on what can be measured and what is achievable, rather than on what is safe."
Dept. of Environment (UK) Committee

"There clearly is a problem associated with animals reared close to . . . waste disposal incinerators"
EU Commissioner for Food Safety, David Byrne, 1999


Cork Harbour Alliance for a Safe Environment
Bishop's Road, Cobh, Co. Cork
Tel - 021 481 5564      Email -
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