Ólína Thorvardardóttir, MP for the Social Democrats, has requested a meeting of the Althingi parliament’s Environment Committee to discuss dioxin pollution from the waste burning station Funi near Ísafjördur in the West Fjords.
Thorvardardóttir asks that representatives from the Environment Agency of Iceland, the Public Health Protection Agency of Iceland, the Public Health Authority in Ísafjördur and the Ísafjördur town council attend the meeting, Fréttabladid reports.
Fréttabladid reported yesterday that the level of dioxin pollution from Funi was more than 20 times higher than the guideline limit, according to testing conducted by the Norwegian company Norsk Energi in October 2007.
The newspaper concluded that the results of the testing had not been presented to the public, although Halldór Halldórsson, who was mayor of Ísafjördur at the time, maintained that all results had been made public and nothing swept under the carpet.
Thorvardardóttir said the testing raises questions on the impact of pollution on the health of the municipality’s inhabitants, especially of the people living in Engidalur and Holtahverfi.
Thorvardardóttir added that questions are also raised on regular monitoring of pollution and the obligation to inform the public of pollution levels, pointing out that the local dairy, MS in Ísafjördur, had discovered the pollution in milk coming from Engidalur and not a supervisory authority.
Einar Sigurdsson, CEO of MS, said the testing was conducted due to requests from the public. “We do all sorts of testing on milk every day but tests like these are not part of them. It should be in the hands of others. But we conducted the testing because a question [regarding persistent pollutants in milk] surfaced among inhabitants.”
When asked whether Funi should not have been deprived of its operating license in 2007, director of the Environment Agency Kristín Linda Árnadóttir, said the agency’s hands were tied.
She explained that due to an exemption from a European Union directive adapted in 2003, the Environment Agency doesn’t have the authority to deprive older waste burning stations of their operation licenses because of limitations on dioxin in exhaust.
Árnadóttir added that in hindsight, the government’s decision to authorize an exemption regarding dioxin exhaust may have been ill-judged.
Árnadóttir explained that from 2005 to 2007 the pollution levels from Funi were within guideline limits. “We notified the Ministry for the Environment of the dioxin testing at the end of 2008.”
After testing in 2009, actions were undertaken, Árnadóttir stated. “But the matter was stalled at the municipality.”
Last year, the Environment Agency continued with its actions. A letter to the municipality Ísafjardarbaer from September 16, 2010, says: “Unsatisfactory pollution prevention measures at the Funi waste burning station which may possibly have damaging effects on the environment and on the health of people in the area are unacceptable.”
Árnadóttir said that at that time it was clear that dioxin had been found in milk from Efri-Engidalur. However, although the agency took that information very seriously, its plans of closing Funi’s operations were related to the testing of dust and heavy metals.
Minister for the Environment Svandís Svavarsdóttir has requested information from the Environment Agency regarding this matter.
Last week the farmer at Efri-Engidalur, who was interviewed by Fréttabladid, expressed concern about the health of his family and livestock because of pollution from Funi.
Click here to read his story.