New data published by Zero Waste Europe and the ToxicoWatch Foundation point to high levels of persistent organic pollutants (POPs) in food grown near waste incinerator facilities in Europe. Eggs, apples, pears, and water are only a handful of the foods affected by elevated POP contamination, as identified by the studies.

The two studies, part of Zero Waste Europe’s True Toxic Toll project, focus on Slovakia and the Netherlands. Researchers analyzed the presence of POPs in the surrounding environment of (co)incinerator facilities. The studies gathered and tested a diverse range of samples—including eggs from backyard chickens, vegetation, fruit, roof dust, water, and sediment—from the vicinity of the investigated facilities.

More specifically, eggs taken from the area surrounding a facility in Turňa nad Bodvou, Slovakia, displayed significantly high concentrations of dioxins and per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). Notably, dioxin levels in eggs in the nearby town of Zádiel surpassed EU limits by 300 percent. Additionally, elevated levels of PFAS were found in surface water streams and sediment near the cement kiln, and moss samples exhibited some of the highest recorded heavy metal levels in Europe.

Similarly, an investigation into the waste incinerator Reststoffen Energie Centrale (REC) in Harlingen, the Netherlands, revealed eggs taken from backyard chickens within two kilometers of the facility to have dioxin levels surpassing the EU’s allowable limit by nearly 300 percent. Furthermore, PFOS (a PFAS type of concern) concentrations in eggs taken from the same location exceeded the highest levels of PFOS previously recorded in eggs in the Netherlands (38.4 nanograms per gram of fat). The PFAS concentration detected in egg yolks is comparable to levels found in the yolks of eggs sourced near a fluorochemical plant in Antwerp, Belgium, with 11 different PFAS compounds detected.

Further research is required to fully understand the sources and patterns of deposition of these contaminants. Zero Waste Europe also underlines that it is important not to overlook other potential confounders of POPs.

The study is a component of a larger biomonitoring research project spanning five countries in Europe: Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain, Slovakia, and France. The ToxicoWatch Foundation, based in the Netherlands, is engaged in the study as a scientific collaborator. The coordination of the project falls under the purview of Zero Waste Europe.