Irish dioxin crisis caused by waste breaches

Police and environment agencies across Ireland are cooperating in an investigation into the contamination of meat with PCBs and dioxins

The Food Safety Authority of Ireland raised the alarm over contamination of pork products on Saturday. It recalled all Irish pork, bacon and ham products and issued an international alert following the detection of high levels of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). Later analyses also confirmed that dioxins were present.

The contamination is believed to affect pork products from ten large producers in the Republic and nine in Northern Ireland. Some 10% of the Republic’s pork production is estimated to be affected and food worth over €125,000 will have to be destroyed.

The UK Food Standards Agency has also withdrawn Irish pork products, while countries as far afield as China have banned imports.

FSAI toxicology specialist Rhodrey Evans told ENDS that the maximum levels of dioxins found was 200 picograms per gram as a toxic equivalent of the most toxic dioxin 2,3,7,8-TCDD. EU rules permit a maximum level of 1pg/g. Some Irish beef has also been contaminated but at much lower levels and products have not been recalled.

The analyses show the congener pattern of dioxins is very similar to that found in waste transformer oils. The source of the contamination has been traced to Millfields Power Recycling Ltd., a County Wexford company which produces breadcrumbs for animal feed from waste bread.

One theory is that fumes from the combustion of oil used to power the boilers has contaminated the feed. Although the company denies sourcing any fuel illegally, cross-border police investigations are continuing, suggesting a possible link with fuel smuggling scams. Waste transformer oils from Northern Ireland may well have been added to fuel consignments.

Although PCBs were banned in the 1970s, usage is still permitted in closed applications such as transformer cooling oils. When drained however, the PCB-containing oils are hazardous waste and should be destroyed by incineration in a facility which complies with the EU waste incineration Directive.

PCBs and dioxins are persistent, toxic and bioaccumulative. They concentrate in fats and are associated with chronic health problems such as cancer, infertility, thyroid problems and skin disorders.

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