Greenpeace releases new report linking incineration and human health impacts

Group challenges Alvarez to implement Clean Air Act

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 the Philippines where waste incineration is prohibited under the country's Clean Air Act, the environmental group challenged newly appointed Environment Secretary Heherson Alvarez to faithfully carry out the intent and provisions of the law, particularly in the light of renewed attempts by oil companies, incinerator pushers and even some government agencies like the Energy and Health departments to derail its implementation.

"The overwhelming evidence on the potential human health impacts of waste burning reaffirms the wisdom behind the Philippine incinerator ban. From the perspective of public and environmental health, incineration has no place in a sustainable society .We urge Secretary Alvarez to be faithful to the pollution prevention objectives of the Clean Air Act as enshrined in key provisions like the waste burning ban and the removal of pollutants from fuels," said Francis de la Cruz, Greenpeace Southeast Asia Toxics Campaigner.

Greenpeace also warned that communities in the Philippines living within a 3 km diameter radius from medical and hazardous waste incinerators live under the constant threat of exposure from toxic air emissions coming from such facilities. Under the Clean Air Act, medical facilities have until the end of the year to phase-out the use of their incinerators and introduce non-polluting alternatives to disinfect hospital waste. Such alternatives include autoclaving, microwaving or the use of chemical disinfection systems.

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 the Philippines 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.

"Who would have thought that by simply burning waste either in the open or in incinerators, one would be creating the most toxic substances known to science. This should serve as a wake-up call for the country not to invest in dirty technologies, including those being packaged in seemingly state-of-the-art and futuristic verbal camouflage such as waste-to-energy, plasma, pyrolysis and other fancy technical mumbo jumbo," added de la Cruz.

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

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.

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