Government consults on dioxin control

Exposure to dioxins and dioxin-like polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) needs to be reduced, according to the Government, as dietary exposure for toddlers, children and certain adult groups currently exceed limits. Breast-fed infants are still exposed to levels exceeding recommended limits, although levels of these pollutants in breast milk has fallen significantly.


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Limits could be set for dioxins in food, but in the longer term reductions in exposure can only be achieved by reducing emissions to the environment, says the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) in its new consultation document.

However, dioxins and dioxin-like PCBs are a global problem, being able to undergo long-range transport. This means that future dioxin legislation in the UK needs to consider the impact of overseas sources, says DEFRA.

Measures that have already been taken to reduce dioxin emissions include controls on industrial processes such as incineration and open agricultural burning, and on emissions from vehicles. PCBs are also subject to European law under the directive on the disposal of polychlorinated biphenyls and polychlorinated terphenyls (96/59/EC). As a result, there has been a 70% decrease of the pollutants in food.

“This is a global issue, with the UK participating in a number of international agreements seeking to achieve a common goal – to reduce or eliminate releases of these compounds,” said Environment Minister Michael Meacher.

DEFRA has made a number of suggestions as to what the future should hold for the two groups of pollutants, for which they are seeking comment from interested parties. These include:

  • a national dioxins action plan to reduce overall exposure;
  • the establishment of a dioxins strategy group;
  • further reductions from industrial processes – in particular those that could be achieved in a cost-effective manner;
  • cost-effective reductions from open burning and other diffuse sources; and
  • arrangements for monitoring and reporting of data on emissions of the pollutants.

Recently it was revealed that prenatal exposure to dioxins affects children’s play behaviour, with both girls and boys exhibiting more feminised play (see related story). Prenatal PCB exposure is associated with less masculinised play behaviour in boys, but more masculinised play behaviour in girls.

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