Greenpeace concerned over high levels of dioxins in blood samples

17-02-2004

The Spolana chemical plant, north of Prague, has been making headlines in the past few years, suspected of leaking chemical substances that are health threatening to residents of the surrounding area. The Czech branch of Greenpeace has put much energy into bringing awareness to the possible presence of toxic levels of dioxins and says that its fears have now been confirmed by a recent study that proves citizens of the towns of Libis, Neratovice, and Tisice, closest to the chemical plant, are indeed exposed to contamination.

A thorough study made by the National Institute of Public Health clearly shows that blood samples taken from residents close to the Spolana plant have significantly higher levels of dioxins and polychlorinated biphenyls than those taken from a control group in a neighbouring town. These substances are proven to be cancer hazards and are produced as by-products from many manufacturing and combustion processes, especially those found in the Spolana plant that use, produce or dispose of chlorine or chlorine derived chemicals. Dr. Miroslav Suta is Greenpeace advisor on toxic substances:

"The study showed that the blood samples of people around the Spolana plant contained levels of dioxins that are twice as high. Contrary to the state's health inspectors, we think this is an important finding because the levels in localities around waste incinerators can result in a number of unexpected health problems."

The Czech Republic's Chief Health Inspector, Michael Vit, however, has a different interpretation of the outcome of the study. He is deeply convinced that the results are positive and there is no cause for concern:

"I must admit that I am pleased by the results of the study. It may show that a degree of contamination is present but the National Institute of Public Health notes that it is not alarming, and the level is in fact within the limits of common contamination mentioned in scientific publications. The levels of toxins found in residents around the factory are approximately the same as levels found in other European countries and do not suggest any increased risk of cancer. However, people who often consume eggs produced locally had higher amounts of organic substances in their blood samples. That is why we would advise them not to breed hens for eggs there."

According to Milena Cerna, who conducted the study, the concentration of the toxic substances found in blood samples has to be at least a hundred times higher in order to be health threatening. A report from the National Institute of Public Health furthermore claims that the levels are similar to those found in blood samples taken from residents of Germany in the early 1990's or from the average consumer of crabs in Norway. The Health Ministry also points out that the level of toxic substances is still within the norms of the World Health Organisation, WHO. But Greenpeace argues that contrary to the claims of the WHO, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says there appears to be no "safe" level of exposure to dioxin. So, the dispute over the safety of the Spolana chemical plant in North Bohemia is clearly not over. But Chief Health Inspector Vit says his office is open to discuss the results of the study:

"We have been given a number of complaints and want to stress we are willing to process any information and verified material given to us by Greenpeace and to say we will exchange information with them."

17-02-2004