The latest Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report on dioxin levels in the Irish environment shows that dioxin levels in all of the samples taken in a 2012 survey were well below the relevant EU limits. The report, published today, is based on dioxin levels measured in cows’ milk in a 2012 survey.

The report also shows that dioxin levels measured in this survey compare favourably with those taken from similar surveys in the EU and other countries.

Commenting on the results, Dr Colman Concannon, Dublin Regional Chemist of the EPA Office of Environmental Assessment, said: “The survey confirms the continuing low levels of dioxins and dioxin-like substances in the Irish environment.  A total of 38 samples were taken and, at an average of 10 per cent of the EU limit, concentrations of dioxins were low by international standards and comparisons.  This is the 10th such survey undertaken by the EPA since 1995 and the results are in line with the earlier studies.”

The principal mechanism for the entry of dioxins into the environment in Ireland is by low-level emissions from multiple combustion sources to the atmosphere, with subsequent deposition onto vegetation such as grass.  Any dioxins on grass ingested by cows tend to concentrate in the milk fat. Hence, sampling for dioxin levels in the milk of grazing cows is the approach adopted.

The survey was carried out between June and early August 2012, during the peak outdoor grazing season, by taking a series of milk samples mainly from representative regional dairies.  Additional samples were also taken from localities that might be seen as areas of potential risk of raised dioxin levels.

Main findings:

  • There was a slight decrease in average dioxin levels in 2012.  The levels found in the survey are well below the EU limit in milk and milk products.
  • Dioxin-like polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB) levels were also found to be lower in 2012 samples than those in 2011, by 25 per cent on average.
  • These differences – in average dioxin levels and dioxin-like PCB levels – are not significant either in environmental or analytical terms and can partly be explained by a downward revision of the International World Health Organisation toxicity factors for some of the dioxin compounds.
  • The results of this survey are in line with the dioxin results from the latest report from the Cork County Council animal health surveillance programme, which has been operating in the Cork Harbour Region since 1991.
  • The data are also consistent with an Food Safety Authority of Ireland breast milk study, which confirmed low levels of exposure of the Irish population to dioxins and other micropollutants.
  • Non-Dioxin PCBs were also measured for the first time. The levels found were not of concern.

The report Dioxin Levels in the Irish environment – 10th assessment is available on the EPA website.