The research, which appears in the current issue of the medical journal, The Lancet, was conducted by Dr Jan A Staessen of the University of Leuven in Belgium and involved 200 17-year-olds, including 120 girls from a rural control area, called Peer, in Belgium, and from two Antwerp suburbs polluted by a lead smelter and two waste incinerators. Biomarkers of exposure and of effect in blood and urine samples were measured, while school doctors measured testicular volume and staged sexual maturation. The research found that children who lived within two kilometres of the waste incinerators matured sexually at an older age than others, and testicular volume was smaller in boys from the suburbs than in controls.

Concentrations of lead and cadmium in blood, PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) and dioxin-like compounds in serum samples, and metabolites of VOCs (volatile organic compounds) in urine were also higher in one or both suburbs than in the control area. Staessen concluded that the findings “suggest that current environmental standards are insufficient to avoid measurable biological effects”.

The research comes hot on the heels after Greenpeace’s scientific study associated increases in cancers, heart disease, birth defects, allergies and breathing problems with waste incinerators (see related story). The NGO has heavily criticised the Labour Party for being the only mainstream party not calling for a moratorium on new incinerators. Greenpeace says that the Party plans up to 100 new plants, and Labour refused to comment to edie on its incineration policy in the general election (see related story).

Greenpeace research on 10 of Britain’s 12 waste incinerators found that they broke pollution laws a total of 546 times in 1999 and 2000 but incurred only one prosecution for the entire period and identifies Sheffield as the worst culprit with 156 breaches over a two-year period.

“This new research is yet another grim warning that burning

Britain’s rubbish could be a disaster for the environment and human health,” commented Greenpeace toxics campaigner, Blake Lee-Harwood. “We already know that burning rubbish gives off poisons that can cause cancers, heart disease and breathing problems. Britain’s incinerators persistently break pollution laws and have amassed a whole catalogue of criminal offences. The Government should listen to scientific and public opinion and abandon this dangerous and outdated technology.”

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