[EDITORIALS]A chemical time bombThe revelation of increased dioxin levels in blood samples of people living near an incinerator in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi province, is shocking. Residents in that area show three to five times more dioxin in their blood samples than normal, according to a study by an environmental research institute. Nationwide, 8,000 incinerators, which are suspected of spewing dioxin, dot the Korean landscape.
Dioxin, which is released when wastes are burned, is 10,000 times more toxic than potassium cyanide. As it accumulates in the human body, it can cause not only cancer but also fetal deformities. Residents around the Pyeongtaek incinerator claim that about 10 of their neighbors have died of cancer and that more people are coming down with the disease. It is very likely that the waste-burning facility is the cause of the deaths, although a comprehensive test needs to be carried out on the underground water, soil and agricultural products in the area. But the Pyeongtaek residents have shown a higher concentration of the toxic chemical in their blood than workers at an incinerator in Japan, which was shut down due to its environmental hazards.
Local authorities have not handled the dioxin problem well. They have set a dioxin standard for incinerators and regulated the amount of toxic emissions. But experts say such a regulatory method is ineffective because incinerator operators hire technical agencies, which report the results to the environmental authorities. The government must lower the maximum level of dioxin emissions by industrial waste incinerators, which are allowed to emit up to 400 times as much dioxin as household waste-burning facilities. The government seldom studies the environmental impact of incinerators, including tests on the effects on humans living nearby. The latest investigations took place after Pyeongtaek residents filed complaints.
The environmental authorities have maintained that the dioxin levels are not at a dangerous level. To reduce the damage from dioxin pollution, the government must investigate waste incinerators across the country and test residents living near these facilities.