Chief Epidemiologist at the Directorate of Health Haraldur Briem decided yesterday to conduct a medical examination of the inhabitants of three municipalities in Iceland which have been subject to dioxin pollution from waste burning stations.
From a laboratory. The photo is not related to the story. Copyright: Icelandic Photo Agency.
Such an examination has never been carried out in Iceland before, Fréttabladid reports.
The decision was made after a meeting of a task force appointed by Briem, the Environment Agency of Iceland and the Food and Veterinary Authority of Iceland (MAST), on how to react to the results of recent testing showing high levels of dioxin in meat, milk and fodder at farms close to the waste burning station Funi in Ísafjördur.
As reported in January, dioxin pollution from Funi measured 20 times over the authorized limit in 2007. Meanwhile, the waste burning station at Kirkjubaejarklaustur emitted 95 times more dioxin than permitted and the dioxin emission from the waste burning station in the Westman Islands was 84 times higher than the allowable limit.
Briem explained that a medical examination of people from these municipalities will be conducted to determine whether their health may have been compromised by the dioxin pollution. “The execution of the procedure has not been planned in detail but it will be conducted in consultancy with scientists at the University of Iceland.”
Briem said taking tissue samples may not be necessary. “We can take blood and hair samples and it can also be seen in breast milk. It can be approached in various ways and we hope to obtain a clear picture of the actual distribution of dioxin in people.”
It hasn’t been decided how many people will be tested. First, samples from a selected group of people will be taken and then the next step will be decided.
Brim emphasized that he doesn’t expect that people’s heath has been compromised because of the pollution but it is important to determine what happened in the three municipalities. The examination is part of an overall study. MAST will, among other measures, take soil samples close to the waste burning stations.
In Kirkjubaejarklaustur waste is still being burned during school hours; the waste burning station is in the same building as the local elementary school and swimming pool. Head of the local authority Eygló Kristjánsdóttir said the arrangement will be reconsidered.
According to RÚV, at least five waste burning stations and one cement factory in Iceland emit dioxin, which is among the most toxic chemicals that have been tested. It is estimated that 90 percent of dioxin found in people comes from the food they consume.
Dioxin accumulates mainly in the soil and is later carried into the food chain. A small amount can cause the death of small animals, cancer and liver damage in people, compromise the development of fetuses and children and cause impotence.
Dioxin is created, among other ways, by the production of chemicals that contain chlorine, waste burning—mostly when hospital waste is burned—in the recycling of aluminum and in various other metal industries.
The guideline limit for dioxin emission for new waste burning stations is 0.1 ng/m3. Even though recent reports have mainly concerned the waste burning station in Ísafjördur, the problem seems to be more severe elsewhere, RÚV pointed out.
In 2007, the dioxin pollution from the waste burning station in Ísafjördur measured 2.1 ng/m3, but 8.4 ng/m3 in the Westman Islands and 9.5 ng/m3 in Kirkjubaejarklaustur.
The more recent waste burning stations in Húsavík and Helguvík (in southwest Iceland) do not emit nearly as much dioxin—results from testing in Húsavík are pending—the emissions from Helguvík and the cement factory in Akranes were below limits in 2007.
Click here to read more about dioxin pollution in Iceland.