Open bonfires and home boilers burning waste are a significant source of dioxins, a report commissioned by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs reveals.
Dioxins are toxic, persistent in the environment and tend to accumulate. According to the report, there is considerable international concern over the potential effects of dioxins released into the environment and their impact on the environment, and human and ecosystem health. Dioxins are thought to cause cancer.
Originally written in 2009, but only revealed now, the report Review and Update of the UK Source Inventories of Dioxins, Dioxin-Like Polychlorinated Biphenyls and Hexachlorobenzene for Emissions to Air, Water and Land says that the major producers of four out of the five types of dioxins or persistent organic pollutants (POPs) studied are accidental fires, open bonfires and waste being burnt in room heaters.
A Defra spokesperson said: Under the Environmental Protection Act 1990 it is an offence for householders to dispose of their waste in a manner likely to cause pollution of the environment and human health, such as by burning.
Domestic waste should be disposed of via the proper routes provided by the local authority.
The report explains that burning waste openly creates a significant release of PCDDs and PCDFs types of POPs to land. Inadequate disposal of the ash once the waste is burned causes absorption of the dioxins. However, it highlighted that it is still extremely difficult to gauge emissions from this sector.
Figures gathered across 1990, 1997 and 2006 clearly showed that waste burning and accidental fires were the largest source of dioxin emissions to air.
The report said: The chief emission source for 2006 is listed as backyard burning of municipal solid waste (MSW), which will be an emission direct to land rather than landfill. This is a diffuse source with little recorded data on activity and emission and the uncertainties within this emission are high, meaning that potentially emissions could be more significant. Historically, emissions of this kind would likely be to the combustion of treated goods and plastics burnt on open bonfires. It went on to say that increased recycling in the UK may have an impact on what type of waste is burnt.
Additionally, the largest industrial source for these dioxins is the metal industry. Emissions of some dioxins to water occur mainly in the secondary metal manufacture during the wet processing stages such as washing.
Research also showed that increasing the use of biomass plants which burn wood would increase the dioxins in future.
The need to explore and address the quantities of and nature of waste burned at households has been acknowledged in the report.