Thursday, August 5, 2021

Leverkusen explosion: What exactly are dioxins, furans, PCBs and PAHs?


After an explosion in Leverkusen in western Germany, authorities are warning that a series of toxins were probably released into the atmosphere. Locals have been told not to eat fruit and vegetables from their gardens.

During an explosion at a hazardous waste incineration plant at Chempark near Leverkusen in western Germany earlier this week, tanks containing chlorinated solvents burst into flames. The solvents, as well as greases, waste medicines, tar and other pollutants are usually incinerated at temperatures of around 1,100 degrees Celsius (2,012 degrees Fahrenheit).

Only when they are incinerated at temperatures of over 850 degrees Celsius can it be ensured that no dioxins, furans, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) or polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) remain in the combustion gases.

But if the incineration is not done properly, certain toxins, which belong to what are known as the dirty dozen of organic environmental pollutants, can remain or even be produced and then be dispersed into the atmosphere.

Thus, following this week's explosion, authorities have warned local residents not to touch any particles of soot or eat any fruit or vegetables from their gardens.

DW looks into what these different toxins are:

Dioxins and furans

This is a collective term for a group of 75 polychlorinated dibenzo-para-dioxins (PCDD) and 135 polychlorinated dibenzofurans (PCDF). One of the most toxic is the compound 2,3,7,8 tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD), which is associated with the 1976 Seveso disaster when between one and three kilograms (between approximately 2.2 and 6.6 pounds) were released into the surrounding area after an accident at a chemical manufacturing plant in Meda, not far from the Italian city of Milan. Some 3,300 animals died and there were about 200 cases of severe chloracne among humans.


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