Municipal News

Landfill sites: A proliferation of health risks

Michele du Plessis

It is a fact that the by-products of solid waste deposited in a landfill have adverse effects on the surrounding environment and people living close by.

*Excerpts from the report cited at the end of the article.

“Waste management has been closely associated with biological hazards. Several studies have shown that occupational risk of waste handlers and landfill workers are high when compared to others. Cancer and other respiratory allergies have been reported by communities living closer to landfill sites. Previous research shows that people living closer to landfill sites suffer from medical conditions such as asthma, cuts, diarrhoea, stomach pain, reoccurring flu, cholera, malaria, cough, skin irritation, cholera, diarrhoea and tuberculosis more than the people living far away from landfill sites. The causes of the health problems are as a result of continuous exposure to chemicals; inhalation of toxic fumes and dust from the landfill sites.

Results from the *study showed that 78% of participants living closer to the landfill site indicated serious contamination of air quality evident from bad odours linked to the landfill site. Illnesses such as flu, eye irritation and weakness of the body were frequently reported by participants living closer (100–500 m) to the landfill than those living far from the landfill. More than half of the participants (56%) living closer to the landfill indicated fear of their health in the future.

Thus, the need for landfill gas (LFG) utilisation system, proper daily covering of waste and odour diluting agents are necessary to reduce the problems of the residents living closer to the landfill site.

Landfills are a major contributor to the world’s anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions because an enormous amount of CH4 and CO2 is generated from the degradation process of deposited waste in landfills. Landfill operation is usually associated with contamination of surface and groundwater by leachate from the landfill (mostly if the landfill lacks adequate liners), pungent odour, loud disturbing noise from landfill bulldozers, bioaerosol emissions; volatile organic compounds.

Some other pollutants associated with deposition of waste on landfills include litter, dust, excess rodents, unexpected landfill fires, etc. The factors that influence the by-product or emissions from landfills include the kind and quantity of waste deposited, the age of the landfill, and the climatic conditions of the landfill sites. Complex chemical and microbiological reactions within the landfill often lead to the formation of several gaseous pollutants, persistent organic pollutants (such as dioxins, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons), heavy metals and particulate matter.

The continuous inhalation of CH4 by humans can cause loss of coordination, nausea, vomiting and high concentration can cause death. Acidic gases like nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide, and halides have harmful effects on the health and environment when introduced. Studies have shown that when nitrogen dioxide and sulphur dioxide are inhaled or ingested by humans, symptoms such as nose and throat irritations, bronchoconstriction and respiratory infections are prevalent, especially in asthmatic patients.

These effects can trigger asthma attacks in asthmatic patients. Also, high contact of NO2 by humans increases the susceptibility to respiratory infections. Furthermore, when these acidic gases reach the atmosphere, they tend to acidify the moisture in the atmosphere and fall as acid rain. Phadi et al. identified that sulphur dioxide has harmful effects on plant growth and productivity.

Besides, humans are at the risk of reduced lung function, asthma, ataxia, paralysis, vomiting emphysema and lung cancer when heavy metals are inhaled or ingested. Illnesses like, high blood pressure and anaemia are caused by heavy metal pollution. Additionally, when in contact in high proportions, heavy metals affect the nervous system which causes neurotoxicity leading to neuropathies with symptoms like memory disturbances, sleep disorders, anger, fatigue, head tremors, blurred vision and slurred speech. It can also cause kidney damage like initial tubular dysfunction and renal cancer.”

Despite the proliferation of the harmful effects on health and environmental impacts on the residents living closer to landfill sites, only 17% of South Africa’s landfill sites meet the requirements of the National Environmental Waste Management Law. What will be done about these problems?

Read the full report here:

Health and Environmental Risks of Residents Living Close to a Landfill: A Case Study of Thohoyandou Landfill, Limpopo Province, South Africa Prince O. Njoku, Joshua N. Edokpayi, John O. Odiyo Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2019 Jun; 16(12): 2125. Published online 2019 Jun 15. doi: 10.3390/ijerph16122125


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