Incinerator toxic emissions: a brief summary of human health effects with a note on regulatory control

Med Hypotheses. 1999 May;52(5):389-96. doi: 10.1054/mehy.1994.0675.


Toxic emissions from municipal solid waste (MSW) and hazardous waste incineration are discussed, with reference to recent reviews and to government standards and controls. Studies of known effects of aromatic hydrocarbons, other organics, dioxins, metals, and gases, on fish, soils, plants, and particularly humans are briefly reviewed. A summary of potential problems with existing and proposed incineration is developed, including: (1) lack of toxicity data on unidentified organic emissions; (2) unavoidability of hazardous metal emissions as particles and volatiles; (3) inefficient stack operation resulting in unknown amounts of increased emissions; (4) formation in the stack of highly toxic dioxins and furans, especially under inefficient conditions, and their build-up in the environment and in human tissue; (5) the lack of adequate disposal techniques for incinerator fly ash and wash-water; (6) the contribution of emitted gases such as NO2, SO2 and HCL to smog, acid rain, and the formation of ozone, and the deleterious effects of these on human respiratory systems; (7) the effects and build-up in human tissue of other emitted organics such as benzene, toluene, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), alkanes, alcohols, and phenols; (8) lack of pollution-control and real-time efficiency-monitoring equipment in existing installations. The inability of regulatory bodies historically to ensure compliance with emission standards is discussed, and a concluding opinion is offered that it is inadvisable to engage in new incinerator construction with present knowledge and conditions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Air Pollutants / toxicity*
  • Air Pollution / prevention & control*
  • Dioxins / toxicity
  • Furans / toxicity
  • Humans
  • Incineration* / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons / toxicity


  • Air Pollutants
  • Dioxins
  • Furans
  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons