International Dioxin Developments

January 27, 2016 | Complex Torts & Product Liability

American University of Beirut Study Claims High Carcinogen Levels Are Near Open Waste Dump Fires

Researchers in Lebanon are reporting increased levels of dioxins and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (“PAHs”) in the air as a result of the burning of trash in open fires.


The rising number of waste dumpsites in Lebanon in the absence of a waste disposal mechanism has led many to set fire to piles of trash. That led the Air Quality Associated Research Unit in Lebanon, formed by the American University of Beirut (“AUB”), Notre Dame University (“NDU”), and Saint Joseph University (“USJ”) and funded by the Lebanese National Council for Scientific Research (“LNCSR”) and the University Research Board at AUB, to decide to measure the emissions from the trash burning.

The Study

According to the AUB, a research team led by Dr. Najat Saliba, professor of chemistry at AUB and head of the AUB Waste Management Task Force, started by measuring the levels of dioxins and PAHs in the air. The AUB said that the researchers found that, compared to measurements of dioxins taken in 2014 in one of the highly industrial zones in Lebanon, the new sampling, which was conducted on the rooftop of a residential building next to a burned open dump, “was up to 416 times more carcinogenic.”

The AUB said that the researchers found that, with the previously measured level of toxins, “0.1 adult and 0.4 children out of every million exposed to dioxins from industrial exhaust over their lifetimes were likely to develop cancer,” which the AUG said was “an acceptable ratio” according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, “which allows a threshold of 1 out of every million.” Those numbers rose to “34 adults and 176 children in the zone where open dumps” had been set aflame in Lebanon, according to the researchers.

The AUB added that the test for PAHs found “the first ever documented presence of Dibenz[a,h]anthracene in ambient air in Lebanon.” According to the AUB, with the “combined effects” of both dioxin and PAHs, “the cancer risk from burning open dumps” rose to “37 adults and 186 children out of every million.”

“Extreme Measures” Urged

The Air Quality Associated Research Unit urged that “extreme measures be taken to stop any burning of waste immediately.”

*     *     *

European Parliament Committee Issues Report on ILVA Industrial Site in Taranto

Policy Department A for the Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (“ENVI”) of the European Parliament (“EP”) has issued a report on the ILVA Industrial Site in Taranto, Italy, that summarizes information on the plant’s “environmental non-compliance,” discusses the economic importance of the plant and the environmental and health impacts resulting from its operation, and presents an overview of actions taken in relation to the plant by European Union (“EU”) bodies and Italian authorities and courts so far.


As the paper explained, the ILVA steel plant was opened in 1965 by the ILVA steel company, which was named Italsider for part of its existence. At the time of the construction of the plant, Italsider was a state-controlled company. The plant was constructed in the Southern Italian city of Taranto, which is located in the Apulia region of Italy. Taranto currently has about 200,000 inhabitants.

According to the paper, “[t]he fact that a large-scale and emission-intensive industrial site was built very close to residential areas, has been attributed to the industrial development model prevailing at the time.”

In 1995, the plant was sold to the Gruppo Riva, an Italian steel producing company in private ownership. The plant is run by ILVA S.p.a. and a conglomerate of various companies controlled by ILVA S.p.a. (all belonging to Gruppo ILVA). Various of them have been declared insolvent in 2015 and are administered by external commissioners.

The report contains an overview of the history of the plant and of the legal measures taken to address what the report characterizes as “the company’s failure to comply with applicable environmental legislation, as well as the environmental, economic and health impacts of the lack of environmental compliance.”

The Report’s Conclusions

The report explains that the ILVA steel plant and its impacts have “pre-occupied Italian society and authorities for more than two decades” and have received “significant attention from the EU institutions.”

According to the report, the situation surrounding the plant “illustrates the consequences of companies failing to comply with applicable permits and environmental legislation, and national authorities failing to enforce environmental standards.” It also highlights “the political and legal complexities involved in addressing a case of environmental non-compliance in a plant of ILVA’s size, whose economic significance extends beyond the local level.”

The report states that the “pollution resulting from the plant’s operation has been linked to higher than average incidence of some diseases as well as number of deaths in areas close to the plant; moreover, other sectors of the economy (e.g. local agriculture) have suffered adverse impacts.”

As the report observes, beginning in 1990, Italian authorities and courts adopted various measures “aimed at forcing the plant’s operators to bring the plant into compliance with applicable environmental legislation, to punish those responsible for the poor environmental performance of the plant and to ensure that damages are remedied.”

However, the report states, “authorities and courts have not always agreed on the legal and political responses, leading to a series of sometimes contradictory decisions.” The report observes that the EU also has intervened by starting infringement proceedings on two separate occasions, one of which resulted in a decision of the Court of Justice finding that Italy had failed to properly apply relevant EU legislation. The report declares that the situation surrounding the plant “also illustrates the potential that the EU Commission has in stimulating Member States to ensure that companies comply with EU environmental legislation, but also the limits of that potential.”

The report concludes by noting that the EP’s options for action in a situation that is “mainly within the enforcement competence of national authorities” are “somewhat limited.” However, according to the report, the EP could take the following steps:

  • The EP should continue to monitor the situation, in particular with regard to compliance of the company with the renewed permit.
  • The EP should carefully consider the implications of the ILVA case in relation to the potential need of harmonization of rules on monitoring and inspection at the EU level, e.g. through a directive on the matter. The EP in this context should also consider experiences gathered with the implementation of the Industrial Emissions Directive which requires Member States to set up a system of environmental inspections for installations covered by the directive.

The report also suggests questions that a EP delegation could ask to various actors involved in the ILVA case. For example, to local authorities, the delegation could ask:

  • What are your demands vis-à-vis the company and the competent authorities (e.g., compensation, clean-up of site)?
  • Do you think the actions taken by authorities and courts are sufficient (e.g., are they adequate and proportionate to the character and amount of damage done)?

*     *     *

Ontario Authorities and Incinerator Operator Disagree About Test Results

The Regions of Durham and York, as Owners of the new Durham York Energy Centre (“DYEC”), have advised Covanta Durham York Renewable Energy Limited that Covanta has met most, but not all, of the criteria of the “Acceptance Test” for the DYEC.


Covanta built and operates the DYEC, which is a new, state-of-the-art $286-million solid waste-to energy incinerator in Southern Ontario near Toronto. The facility can process up to 140,000 tons of waste each year, generating some 17.5 megawatts of renewable energy – enough to power between 10,000 and 12,000 homes.

The owners of the facility – the regional municipalities of Durham and York – have advised Covanta that it has met most, but not all, of the criteria for it to accept the facility.

The Test Results

According to the local governments, the acceptance test results demonstrated performance above the guarantees for the DYEC with one exception: “minor issues” were identified with the (ash) residue quantity test results. The governments said that the acceptance test must demonstrate performance for the entire facility, including the environmental and contractual requirements. It said that, after a complete evaluation of the current information by the management committee (a joint committee of senior staff from York and Durham), the decision not to issue the Acceptance Test certificate was made based on the technical report and recommendations of the consultant, HDR.

“We’ve said all along, we will not accept the new Durham York Energy Centre until it is the state-of-the-art, energy-from-waste facility that we set out to build,” said Roger Anderson, regional chair and chief executive officer for Durham Region. “The facility is not there yet, although they passed all emissions tests, the amount of ash is up about 2.5 per cent more than it should be. The ash quantity issue will not impact operations, but we want this done in strict compliance with our contract.”

The Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change received the reports for the Source Test, Odour Test, Noise Test and Ash Test and determined that the DYEC is capable of operating in compliance with regulations. Covanta met all environmental requirements, throughput capacity and electrical generation requirements, but fell marginally over the guarantees for ash residue quantity production, according to the authorities.

For its part, Covanta believes that the test results met the requirements of the contract and, in particular, that the ash results were within limits.

The parties’ agreement contains a method for resolving disputes, beginning with negotiation and moving toward mediation and arbitration.

*     *     *

Indian Physician Warns About “Endocrine Disruptors”

Dr. J.K. Bhutani, a physician in Karnal, Haryana, India, has written an article calling “endocrine disruptors” the “emerging public health concern.”


Dr. Bhutani began his article defining an endocrine disruptor as a “chemical that interferes (or disrupts) with the formation, secretion or functioning of hormones (secreted by endocrine glands) in our body.”

He said that endocrine disruptors “are so ubiquitous” that “[e]very daily need from a toothpaste, soap, detergents, body-lotions, perfumes, food additives, potable water, vegetables, milk and stored cereals may contain residues of chemicals, pesticides and other adulterant toxins.”

A Warning

The author wrote that endocrine disruptors “should be the next hot public health concern,” given “evidence” of “their link with various chronic diseases including obesity, diabetes, decreased fertility and some cancers, swells.”

Dr. Bhutani acknowledged, however, that the “epidemic of diabetes and thyroid disorders in India and the role of these chemicals are not well researched” and that the “health effects” of endocrine disruptors are “difficult to assess because of the fact that people are typically exposed to multiple endocrine disruptors simultaneously and the amount and the route of the chemical entering the system is variable.”

Related Publications

Legal updates and news delivered to your inbox