High dioxin levels are reported in heavily industrialised areas and in places where there are large stockpiles of industrial waste. It can, therefore, be expected that highly industrialised countries in Europe and the United States would record high levels of dioxins.
Dioxin levels are also a concern in developing countries as they become more industrialized or do not properly destroy dioxin contaminated material.
Dioxins have also been recorded in the Arctic environment and in the Indigenous peoples who live there. This is a strong indication of the persistence of these toxic substances and their ability to be readily transported through the atmosphere.
A report on dioxin emission sources by the Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts, released in 1998, focused on air emissions (revised edition published 2002 - Sources of Dioxins and Furans in Australia: Air Emissions). This report identified six major sources of emissions: controlled burning, bushfires, residential wood combustion, coal combustion, sinter production and industrial wood combustion. However, as there was little Australian data these estimates were derived from emission studies in other countries.
It is believed that Australia's dioxin levels are generally low, given our low population density, comparatively lower level of industrialisation, and use of advanced technology to reduce dioxin emissions. However, there are "hotspots", such as former industrial sites like the Rhodes Peninsula in Sydney where the levels are very high.
Dioxin levels have been decreasing in industrialised countries since the 1970s when it was recognised that they are highly toxic substances that pose risks for human health and the environment, and governments and industries took action to reduce dioxin emissions.
However, although some countries have compiled inventories of sources of dioxins, it is possible that these underestimate the levels of dioxins, and the way the information has been collected is not consistent across countries. This makes it difficult to compare.
New sources of dioxins are also being discovered and the major sources differ from country to country, including natural sources.
The Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants came into force on 17 May 2004. Australia ratified on 20 May 2004.
The Convention requires countries that are parties to the Convention to reduce and, where feasible eliminate 12 toxic chemicals including dioxins and furans. The Convention also requires parties to develop action plans to reduce emissions of chemicals unintentionally formed and released by combustion and other industrial activity.
Parties to the Stockholm Convention are required to minimise the release of toxic by-products by adopting national action plans. All parties to the Convention will analyse the sources of emissions in their countries and report on the actions they have taken to reduce them and where feasible, to eliminate them. Parties will also need to ensure that proposed new industrial or manufacturing plants that are likely to produce toxic emissions apply "Best Available Techniques" to reduce their release of emissions.
Parties will also be obliged to pay particular attention to major sources of emissions including waste incinerators, cement kilns burning waste as fuel, the production of paper pulp using elemental chlorine, and thermal processes in the metallurgical industry (such as secondary copper production and sinter plants in the iron and steel industry).
The National Dioxins Program arose from domestic concerns about dioxins and contributed to the implementation of the Stockholm Convention.
This is number 4 of 4 fact sheets on the National Dioxins Program
For more information contact:
National Dioxins Program
Chemical Policy Section
Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts
GPO Box 787
CANBERRA ACT 2601
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Last updated: Wednesday, 27-Jul-2011 13:35:59 EST
Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities
GPO Box 787
Canberra ACT 2601 Australia
+61 2 6274 1111