Greenpeace releases new report linking incineration and human health impacts , Thailand

Group challenges Bangkok Metropolitan Authority to junk planned waste burners

Press release - April 3, 2001
A new Greenpeace report released last week points to clear evidence that incinerators release a virtual soup of toxic substances, including cancer-causing dioxins, and that workers at incinerator plants and people living in nearby communities are in danger of developing a host of serious health problems as a consequence of exposure to the chemical by-products of burning waste.

A new Greenpeace report released last week points to clear evidence that incinerators release a virtual soup of toxic substances, including cancer-causing dioxins, and that workers at incinerator plants and people living in nearby communities are in danger of developing a host of serious health problems as a consequence of exposure to the chemical by-products of burning waste.

Relating these findings to Thailand, the environmental group urged officials of the Bangkok Metropolitan Authority (BMA) to drop its plans to install waste incinerators for the metropolis and invest in intensive waste reduction, separation and recycling programs instead which are safer and economically superior than burning.

"The considerable evidence linking incinerators, including so-called modern or state-of-the art burners to serious health effects, should be enough to jolt our government officials to reconsider if not junk all pending plans to build these incineration plants. The government does not even have the capability to monitor these facilities for emissions of concern on a continuous basis " according to Tara Buakamsri, Toxics Campaigner for Greenpeace Southeast Asia.

Greenpeace also warned that communities living within a 3km radius from garbage incinerators in Phuket and Ko Samui are living under the constant threat of exposure from toxic air emissions coming from such facilities. The Phuket and Koh Samui incinerators, both of which are Japanese-built, release dioxin at levels that would be illegal in Japan or Europe. The Phuket incinerator has a recorded release of 1.59 nanograms per cubic meter ITEQ, around 15 times above the Japanese or European standards. The Koh Samui incinerator plant operators reported to Greenpeace that their facility releases approximately 4 nanograms per cubic meter ITEQ of dioxin, around 40 times higher than standards applied in Europe and Japan.

The scientific findings published in a new report entitled "Incineration and Human Health, compiled by the Greenpeace laboratories at Exeter University in the United Kingdom identifies links between incineration and a variety of human health impacts, including cancer. It concludes that, where studies into health impacts of incinerators have been conducted, waste incineration is associated with definite hazards to human health such as lung, throat, liver and stomach cancers as well as respiratory problems and heart disease. The report also confirms that there is no "safe" level for many environmental chemical pollutants that are toxic, persistent and bioaccumulative, such as dioxins.

The health problems are connected to the hazardous substances, including the super toxic dioxins and PCBs, generated during waste combustion. These substances are included in the list of 12 persistent organic pollutants (POPs) prioritized for elimination by the international community under the auspices of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) (1).

It also noted that populations residing near incinerators are potentially exposed to chemicals through inhalation of contaminated air or by consumption of contaminated agricultural produce (e.g. vegetables, eggs and milk) from the local area and by dermal contact with contaminated soil. The study found significantly increased levels of dioxins in the tissues of residents near to incinerators in the UK, Spain and Japan, most likely as a result of such exposure.

Greenpeace stressed that in view of the global action targeting the elimination of the health-damaging pollutants linked to incineration, the obvious choice for Thailand is to shift to clean alternatives. The country must shift its industry to commercially available alternative technologies and Clean Production practices that avoid the use of hazardous substances and the generation of waste.

"The writing on the wall is very clear. Incineration has no place in a sustainable society. Thailand should not invest in dirty technologies but should rather make the leap now to cleaner and more sustainable alternatives," added Buakamsri.

Notes: (1) Representatives of over 120 governments, which met in Johannesburg in December 2000, reached an agreement to phase out some of the most dangerous chemicals on earth. The treaty aims to put an end to the manufacture and use of new industrial Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) as well as eliminating existing POPs. The draft will be signed at the next meeting in Stockholm in May 2001. To view the report Incineration and Human Health (State of Knowledge of the Impacts of Waste Incinerators on Human Health), go to : http://www.greenpeace.org/~toxics/html/content/action_incinreport

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