While there is a thriving pharmaceutical industry in Ireland, there is no legacy of large chemical industry here. This is reflected in the low levels of chemical contamination found.

Dioxins & PCBs

Dioxins are dangerous chemicals that cause cancer. They are formed as a by-product in the chemical industry and when certain compounds are burned at low temperature. They persist in the environment and so have found their way all over the globe. They accumulate in fat and thereby tend to be concentrated in milk. The EPA have measured dioxins in cows milk regularly for a number of years and levels here are low in comparison with other countries.

PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyl) are chemicals that have been used as insulators in transformers and other electrical equipment for many years. They are toxic, persistent and are suspected of causing cancer and so they have been restricted by law for many years. Nevertheless, many old installations still contains PCBs. In December 2008, pork products in Ireland were withdrawn from the market following PCB contamination from an animal feed production process.

Heavy Metals

Heavy metals include lead, cadmium, mercury, inorganic tin, 3-MCPD and benzo(a)pyrene. There are a few locations in Ireland contaminated by heavy metals. These are mostly at old mine sites in Silvermines, Co. Tipperary, Avoca in Co. Wicklow and Tynagh in Co. Galway. Careful monitoring and management of these sites is required on an ongoing basis to ensure that the contamination is contained. National and EU legislation covers the contamination issues associated with heavy metals.


Irish agriculture is predominantly grassland, so our usage of pesticides is relatively low. This low usage is reflected in low levels monitored in the environment and levels found in foods by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland. A comprehensive study into pesticides residues in food was carried out in 2011 by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, the full report for which, and other reports, can be found here. 

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