The Facts

At the end of may 1999, Belgium was shocked by a serious contamination of food. As wel as in chicken meat as in eggs of some growers, high levels of dioxin were found. Also PCB's, dioxin-like chemicals, be it much less toxic, were found at high levels... See also the messages at the web site of the federal Belgian government.

As far as today (July 6 1999) is known, the pollution is probably the result of a contamination with PCB's, which might be from used transformers, that has been mixed in some way with old oil from french fries baking. If that was by accident or purposefully, is still unknown. If it is the first, that is gross negligence, in the other case it is pure criminal.
The production of PCB's was stopped already twenty years ago in Western Europe and the content of used transformers must be collected by certified waste firms to be destructed at very high temperature in special incinerators.

The most striking point in this case is the frightening lack of quality control at every level, as good as from the suppliers of recycled oils and fats as of the animal fat factory as of the animal feed firms and especially of the government. It was only when the chickens died by the contamination that inspectors of the insurance company did find the high contamination. As condemnable is the fact that the government at the moment that the facts - at the end of April - where known, didn't take any measure, neither informed the population. Be it that most of the chickens and eggs probably already were consumed.


Health risks by eating these eggs and chickens.

It is sure that some dioxins are very toxic substances. Be it not (any more) the most toxic substances made by mankind (and nature). That record have some nitrated aromatics which can be found in diesel exhaust. But in no case one should ingest too much dioxins (see How toxic are dioxins). Lucky for us, even here it still are very small quantities. Based on what is known today, somebody who has eaten a contaminated egg every day during 30 days, will have app. 20% more dioxin in the body than before (see for the calculations by German toxicologists the Geo-Wissenschaft web site - in German).

The possibility of developing cancer as result of dioxin contamination is only seen at people which were involved in processes and accidents where dioxins were set free and have had an intake of 100-10,000 times higher levels than normal during prolonged periods. Below 100 times more than normal, no extra cases of cancer were observed (even not in Seveso).
Most toxicologists assume that there will not be any extra risk of cancer, only a few expect between 8 and 800 extra cases of cancer on a population of 10 million. For other countries, which received much less contaminated chicken meat or eggs, the risk is even less.

Other health risks

According to investigations that have been carried out after the incident in Seveso, it is clear that no extra adverse health effects occured until now. Even for children, born from parents with high levels of dioxin, no abnormal high level of birth defects were found (see also other deseases in Seveso).


Sources of dioxin.

There are many sources of dioxin. To form dioxin, you need carbon, chlorine and oxygen and the right circumstances. Because carbon, chlorine and oxygen are everywhere present in nature, even in ambient air, the process conditions are the most important factor in dioxin formation. Especially incineration at too low temperature is one of the most important sources (see Sources of dioxin). That is the case for waste incineration as wel as for wood stoves, open fire places, and smoking. The amount of chlorine doesn't play any important role (see chlorine input and dioxin output at different processes). The incineration of clean, dry wood (app. 0.15% chlorine) in an open fire place emits more dioxin than an accidental fire where large quantities of PVC (57% chlorine) were involved. Also at some chemical processes dioxins are formed (but these are NOT dumped in the environment!).
Greenpeace abuses this horrible story to declare again that with the production and incineration of PVC, dioxins are formed. While that essentially is true, they forget to tell you that their action ships, even if they use totally chlorine free fuel, emit MORE dioxin per ton fuel use than the production and the incineration (in a modern incinerator) of one ton of PVC (see emissions of seaships)... Neither of these emissions pose a threat to the health of anybody.


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On the net: June 6, 1999.
Last update: June 22, 1999.

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