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ENVIRONMENT MINISTER CONSULTS ON DIOXINS CONTROL

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The UK government and devolved administrations today published a...
The UK government and devolved administrations today published a

public consultation paper to review the control measures that have

been put in place to reduce emissions of dioxins to the environment.

In launching the consultation, environment minister, Michael Meacher,

said:

'This consultation paper sets out the considerable amount we have

achieved in reducing exposure to these toxic compounds, but there is

still more to do. 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. We are,

therefore, seeking views and comments from all stakeholders on the

ways that this can most effectively be achieved.'

Alongside a partial regulatory impact assessment the paper, entitled

'Dioxins and dioxin-like PCBs in the UK Environment', will serve as a

focus for stakeholders when considering what further actions are

required to reduce environmental and human exposure to dioxins and

dioxin-like polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).

Dioxins are environmental contaminants unintentionally produced in

small quantities in most combustion processes. They are persistent in

the environment and tend to accumulate in biological systems.

One of the most extensively studied of these,

2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin, exhibits a broad range of toxic

effects in animal studies, some at very low doses.

Dioxins and PCBs can be detected in all foods and food contributes

95% of all human exposure to these compounds. Even at the highest

levels found in food dioxins do not have an immediate effect on

health - the potential risks come from long-term exposure. In the UK

exposure through food has fallen by 75% over the past 20 years and

this has reduced any associated health risks.

NOTES

1. PCBs were manufactured and used in a range of industrial

applications until the 1970s, but have since been discontinued. They

are also persistent in the environment, have the potential to

bioaccumulate and some exhibit dioxin-like biological activity.

2. Following the commissioning of a review by the Food Standards

Agency (FSA), the Committee on Toxicity recommended a tolerable daily

intake (TDI) for dioxins and dioxin-like PCBs of 2 picogram TEQ per

kg body weight in line with other international and European expert

committees (where TEQ relates the toxicity of a mixture of dioxins

and dioxin-like PCBs to the amount of the most toxic dioxin which

would give the same effect and a picogram is one millionth of one

millionth of a gram).

3. The TDI is the maximum amount of a contaminant which can be

consumed every day over a lifetime without causing any harm. It is

set using a precautionary approach, with built in safety factors, and

exceeding it erodes the safety margin but does not necessarily result

in a risk to health.

4. Based on 1997 diets, average intakes for the UK population are 1.8

picograms per kilogram body weight per day. In common with USA and

other EU member states, about one third of the UK population may

exceed the TDI in their daily diet. However, of those that exceed,

FSA data show almost all will be below 3.5 picograms per kilogram

which is considered to represent a very small erosion of the safety

margin.

5. Measures already taken on the major emissions sources have seen

reductions in both emissions to the environment, and of the levels in

food, by approximately 70% over the past 10 years. Further

reductions, particularly from diffuse sources, may not be

straightforward, and the consultation seeks views on additional

methods of control by.

6. The consultation paper is published by the department for

environment, food and rural affairs. Copies of the paper and the

partial regulatory impact assessment are available here.

7. Responses for England and Wales should be sent to the above

address/e-mail address. For Scotland these should be sent to Mr A

Taylor, Air Quality Team, ERAD ACE, Scottish Executive, Area 1H,

Victoria Quay, Edinburgh EH6 6QQ.

(Andrew.Taylor2@scotland.gsi.gov.uk)

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