Pyres raise fears over danger to public health

Pollution
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The Independent Online

Pyres of animals being burnt because of the foot-and-mouth crisis could be producing as many toxic, carcinogenic chemicals as every factory in Britain put together.



Pyres of animals being burnt because of the foot-and-mouth crisis could be producing as many toxic, carcinogenic chemicals as every factory in Britain put together.

The epidemic means that the UK is on course to double its annual output of dioxins, which have been linked to cancer and reduced sperm counts. Politicians yesterday called for daily tests to be done around pyres to measure levels of the chemicals, which they fear are entering the food chain.

Initial tests of dioxin emissions show that within weeks of the crisis, the giant bonfires had spewed out levels almost equal to a quarter of Britain's annual industrial output.

Dioxins, which have also been linked to genital abnormalities and reading difficulties, are produced by burning. But the livestock pyres produce far higher levels than factories, which face safety restrictions from Brussels and have had to introduce filters to stop dioxins entering the atmosphere.

In 1999, 88g of dioxins were produced by British industry. But only weeks after the Government began burning carcasses, tests showed that 20g of dioxins had been released. Yesterday, environmental groups warned that dioxins could enter the food chain through grass eaten by animals, with potentially dangerous side-effects, especially for babies.

The North Cumbria health authority called for further incineration to be postponed. It advised Ministry of Agriculture officials in Carlisle to stop burning livestock until national guidance became available.

Chris Davies, MEP for the North-West, whose constituency covers Cumbria, yesterday asked the Environment Agency to publish the results of tests to reassure his constituents that their health was not being put at risk. The agency said yesterday that it was waiting for the results of tests for dioxin levels it had done near a pyre in Wales and would send them to ministers and local authorities.

"Last year the EU passed a law setting the strictest possible standards to control emissions from commercial waste incinerators and to protect human health," Mr Davies said.

"What's taking place in Cumbria is the equivalent of thousands of vast incinerators churning their filth out into the atmosphere all within a small area. There has already been a scandal about dioxin emissions in Belgium. We must ensure that foot-and-mouth doesn't contribute to one here."

The European Commission and the World Health Organisation have called for tighter limits on exposure to dioxins. The current WHO limit says that exposure should be limited to between one and four picograms ­ or one hundredth of a billionth of a gram ­ per kilogram per day.

Friends of the Earth said yesterday that the Government should introduce urgent restrictions on the materials used in the fires, including creosote, to cut down on the dioxins.

"There's no doubt that the burning policy will lead to large amounts of the chemicals being released," said Mike Childs, of Friends of the Earth.

"The Government must make sure the material used to burn the cattle is the cleanest possible."

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