A WHO study paints a reassuring picture for HK but it urges closer monitoring Hong Kong people have lower levels of dioxins in their bodies than most Europeans, a World Health Organisation study shows. But it has urged close monitoring of levels of the carcinogenic chemicals in the environment. The dioxin levels in Hongkongers ranked in the middle to lower range compared with 25 other countries included in the study, released yesterday. The city fared better than Italy, Germany, Spain and Sweden, but lagged behind the United States, Australia and New Zealand, among others. In the studies of the levels of different types of dioxins, Hong Kong ranked 14th and 17th out of 26. Egypt and the Ukraine had the highest levels, and Fiji had the lowest levels. 'I think one has to take some satisfaction that we are in the middle to lower range,' said Anthony Hedley, chair professor of the University of Hong Kong's Department of Community Medicine, which helped the WHO with its Hong Kong data. 'If we can assume we are at the same downward trend as other countries, then it's a good sign.' Dioxins are environmental pollutants that are created by processes such as the burning of waste and incineration. In the WHO study, samples of breast milk from 316 first-time mothers in Hong Kong were taken. Dioxins are found in fats, including those in breast milk. Researchers found that older mothers and those born in Guangdong had higher dioxin levels. Mothers aged 30 and older who had consumed more seafood were also found to have higher dioxin levels. Despite the findings, mothers were still urged to breastfeed their babies - since any dioxins would most likely have already been passed onto the babies when they were in their mother's womb. While 90 per cent of the substances entered the body through food consumption, experts said it would not help mothers if they changed their diets during pregnancy because dioxins stayed in the body for a long time. Virtually everyone in the world has dioxins in their bodies, but those with high levels are at greater risk of cancers, disruption of the hormonal system and skin diseases. It could also affect the male reproductive system. Dioxin exposure in some populations has led to fewer male newborns. Environmentalists said the study was timely because the government was considering using incinerators to dispose of waste again after abandoning them in 1997. Last week the Environmental Protection Department granted a licence to Green Island Cement to operate a pilot plant in Tuen Mun, despite protests from residents and green groups. 'There's no safe incinerator, you cannot knock out all the dioxin,' said Martin Baker, a Greenpeace spokesman. 'It is important to constantly monitor dioxin levels. We obviously hope the government doesn't introduce wide use of incineration. We think there are much better alternatives.'