press release > 13.04.2005

Shocking levels of dioxin contamination found near proposed EU-funded waste site in Bulgaria

April 13, 2005

A study of free-range chicken eggs produced in the village of Kovachevo in the Stara Zagora region of Bulgaria has revealed evidence of alarming levels of dioxins and polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) contamination, pointing to the crucial need for Bulgaria to fulfill its commitment to reduce human exposure to harmful persistent organic pollutants (POPs). [1] However, the Bulgarian Ministry of Environment and Water continues to promote the construction of a facility which will be a future POPs emitter two kilometres from Kovachevo and which will include a 15 000 tons per year incinerator as well as asbestos and hazardous waste landfills. The National Hazardous Waste Centre (NHWC) project is seeking substantial funding from the European Investment Bank (EIB) and European Union ISPA funds.

The study showed one of the highest levels of dioxins ever measured in chicken eggs. Dioxins in eggs from Kovachevo exceeded the European Union limit by a factor of more than 20. The level of PCBs found in the eggs was more than double the proposed EU limit.

According to official estimations from the national Environmental Agency, more than 40 percent of the dioxin air emissions in 2002 derived from three thermal power plants, like the Maritsa East II thermal power plant, situated in the Stara Zagora region. Other sources for the pollutants include obsolete pesticide storage in the village and a briquette factory 15 kilometres from Kovachevo.

"It's obvious that POPs have already gotten into the food chain and for Kovachevo the results are terrifying," said Ivaylo Hlebarov from Za Zemiata, a Sofia-based member group of CEE Bankwatch Network. "People in the area already suffer from different types of cancer and respiratory diseases and they eat contaminated food every day. If the toxic substances are now at extremely high levels, what about after the construction of the NHWC? The Environment ministry has ignored the concerns of NGOs and locally affected people who have argued against the NHWC for five years. Instead of helping the local population to deal with such high contamination the European Commission and European Investment Bank are still planning to finance our government's plan for an incinerator project which will only perpetuate the region's health and environmental problems."

During an official meeting in June 2004 between NGOs, the Environment ministry and the EU delegation to Bulgaria, ministry representatives said that they do not have any background measures of toxic substances, but will measure the incinerator emissions twice a year once it is operational.

"This is absurd. The Environment ministry is set to give the go-ahead to another POPs emitter without having any real measures for breast milk, eggs or air and despite ignoring its own data on air emissions. They actually refused to come up with reliable measures and later stated that there would be no risk to the villagers and the environment. We've now tested the eggs for dioxins and the results are frightening. Building a huge incinerator next to Kovachevo to cater for the dumping of toxic materials from all over Bulgaria is planning straight out of the asylum," concluded Ivaylo Hlebarov.

The egg sampling, conducted by the International POPs Elimination Network (IPEN) [2], Za Zemiata (For the Earth) and Arnika Association, comes ahead of next month's first Conference of the Parties to the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants. This historic Convention marks the first global, legally binding instrument which aims to protect human health and the environment by controlling the production, use and disposal of toxic chemicals. The Bulgarian Parliament ratified the Convention in September 2004.

For more information, contact:
Ivaylo Hlebarov, Za Zemiata
Tel: + 359 2 951 53 18, +359 898 252 303

Notes for editors:

1. This study is one of 18 being conducted in countries around the globe to highlight the need for Parties to the Stockholm Convention to carefully inventory sources of POPs and include the use of substitution or modified materials in any plan for their elimination or reduction.

POPs are toxic substances that are produced and released into the environment largely as a result of human activity. They do not break down easily so persist in the environment for many years and can travel great distances through the air and water currents. Some POPs are produced for use as pesticides, some for use as industrial chemicals, and others as unwanted byproducts of combustion or chemical processes that take place in the presence of chlorine compounds. Parties to the Stockholm Convention agreed to reduce and eliminate 12 of the world's most harmful and persistent pollutants, including four POPs that are produced unintentionally: dioxins, furans, hexachlorobenzene and PCBs.

Chicken eggs were chosen for the study because they are a common food item, their fat content makes them appropriate for monitoring chemicals such as POPs that dissolve in fat, and eggs are a powerful symbol of new life. The study focused on free-range hens because they can easily access and eat soil animals and therefore their eggs are good tools for biomonitoring of environmental contamination.

2. The International POPs Elimination Network (IPEN) is a global public interest NGO network with more than 350 Participating Organizations in 65 countries and in all regions. IPEN was formed in 1998 during the first POPs Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee meeting (INC1). IPEN-Participating organizations in many countries and in all regions collaborated to advance the common goal of creating a strong and effective global POPs treaty. IPEN now works with NGOs at regional, national, district and community levels in support of POPs elimination efforts as a step toward a future world where toxic chemicals no longer cause harm to human health or to the environment.

Read more background information about the National Hazardous Waste Centre at Za Zemiata's website:
And at the Bankwatch website:

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