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Public’s Right to Clean Environment to Be Secured

svandissvavarsdottir_althingiIn response to recent news of dioxin pollution, Minister for the Environment Svandís Svavarsdóttir supports the idea of securing the public’s right to a healthy environment with a clause in the Constitution of Iceland, which is up for review.

“It is worth noting that the right to employment and ownership is clearly stated in the Constitution but not the public’s right to information,” Svavarsdóttir told Fréttabladid.

This fact was pointed out by the Association of Environmental Scientists, who released a statement yesterday because of the dioxin pollution caused by waste burning stations in at least three municipalities in Iceland.

The association encourages that people’s right to a healthy environment and their right to information is included when the constitution is reviewed.

A parliamentary bill on environmental responsibility is pending where it is suggested that a pollution damages clause is legalized, which includes that those who cause damages to the environment are obligated to make up for the damage, regardless of whether it is caused deliberately or by accident.

“The situation in Iceland would change significantly if the parliament passes the bill,” Svavarsdóttir said.

In an interview on RÚV’s Rás 2 radio station yesterday, the minister said she doesn’t have the legal authority to shut down waste burning stations. However, she has sent a letter to the municipalities in question asking that this is done.

“It is out of the question to discontinue waste burning completely,” Eygló Kristjánsdóttir, head of the Skaftárhreppur municipality where Kirkjubaejarklaustur is located, told Morgunbladid of her reaction to the minister’s letter, adding, “Everyone is working on a solution.”

The local waste burning station is in the same building as the town’s elementary school. Parents have refused to send their children to school while waste is being burned so now waste burning doesn’t take place until the afternoon.

Hjalti Thór Vignisson, Mayor of Höfn in Hornafjördur, where another waste burning station is located, said the minister’s request is natural given the situation and that the local authorities are rethinking the future of the waste burning station at Svínafell in Öraefi.

“We are investigating as to what extent we can reduce waste burning or whether we can shut down operations temporarily until results from further testing has been received. We have received samples from a dairy farm nearby and are not concerned about those results but we are still waiting to hear about the dioxin pollution itself,” Vignisson said.

In the Westman Islands, which is also home to a waste burning station, Mayor Ellidi Vignisson said they share Svavarsdóttir’s concern. “If the state is prepared to participate in the cost involved in ceasing all waste burning or significantly reducing it until a future solution has been found, we will not stand in the way.”

For safety reasons, due to possible dioxin pollution in meat, the cooperative KS decided to recall all fresh legs of lamb with a packaging date of 29.09.2010 which were distributed to the Bónus grocery stores. The company Ferskar kjötvörur also issued a recall of fresh beef products.

Click here to read more about dioxin pollution and here to read more about the upcoming review of the constitution.

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