Tuesday, 3 February 2004

Questions (18)

Liam Twomey


145 Dr. Twomey asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the plans he has to present a proposal to Government to make Ireland a dioxin-free country. [2951/04]

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Written answers (Question to Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government)

Dioxins arise mainly from incomplete combustion. Various studies have confirmed their ubiquitous nature, even in remote areas. Humans have contributed to the dioxin load in the environment since the first use of fire, and in practical terms it is impossible totally to eliminate dioxins. The real challenge is to reduce levels of emissions.

The most recent emissions data available are in the inventory of dioxin and furan emissions to air, land and water in Ireland for 2000 and 2010 prepared for the Environmental Protection Agency in December 2002. That report is a useful contribution to our information base on dioxins in the environment, especially as it identifies the relative significance of various emission sources for dioxins. Overall, it indicates that Ireland generates relatively low amounts of dioxin and is consistent with earlier EPA surveys of dioxin levels, showing they are uniformly low by international standards.

It is evident from the report that the biggest source of emissions is, and is expected to remain, uncontrolled combustion processes, in particular the home burning of domestic waste, house and vehicle fires, and Halloween bonfires. Together, those contribute nearly 80% of total emissions into the air. Nonetheless, the report anticipates that dioxin emissions into the air from all sources will fall by over 10% by 2010. It is noteworthy that the nine hazardous waste incinerators in operation in Ireland in 2000 were estimated to have contributed a fraction of 1% of national dioxin emissions into the air. Even projecting annual municipal waste incineration of 1 million tonnes by 2010, the report estimates that waste incineration would contribute less than 2% of dioxin emissions to air.

Ireland is a signatory of both the 1998 UNECE Protocol on Persistent Organic Pollutants, or POPs, and the 2001 UNEP Convention on POPs. Both agreements aim to reduce and, where feasible, ultimately eliminate releases and emissions of dioxins. Parties must develop an action plan containing appropriate strategies, including promoting the application of available, feasible and practical measures, the development of substitute materials, products and processes, and the application of best available techniques and best environmental practices to new and existing sources and of effective measures to control emissions from mobile sources. I am working towards ratification of both agreements and will bring proposals to Government in due course.