Health issues associated with exposure to solid waste

By Dr. Sara M. Pournia, MD

Nova Medical Centers, Muscat, Sultanate of Oman

Modernisation and progress has had its share of disadvantages and one of the main aspects of concern is the pollution it is causing to the earth – be it land, air, and water. With increase in the global population and the rising demand for food and other essentials, there has been a rise in the amount of waste being generated daily by each household. This waste is ultimately thrown into municipal waste collection dumpsters from where it is collected by the municipality to be further thrown into the landfills and dumps. However, either due to ignorance or callousness not all of this waste gets collected and transported to the final dumpsites.

Waste that is not properly managed, especially excreta and other liquid and solid waste from households and the community, are a serious health hazard and lead to the spread of disease. Unattended waste lying around attracts flies, rats, and other creatures that in turn spread disease. Normally it is the wet waste that decomposes and releases a bad odour. This leads to unhygienic conditions and thereby to a rise in the health problems.

Certain chemicals if released untreated, e.g. cyanides, mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls are highly toxic and exposure can lead to disease or death. Some studies have detected excesses of cancer in residents exposed to hazardous waste. Many studies have been carried out in various parts of the world to establish a connection between health and hazardous waste. Thus excessive solid waste that is generated should be controlled by taking certain preventive measures.

Plastics are another cause for ill health. The unhygienic use and disposal of plastics and its effects on human health has become a matter of concern. Coloured plastics are harmful as their pigment contains heavy metals that are highly toxic. Some of the harmful metals found in plastics are copper, lead, chromium, cobalt, selenium and cadmium. In most industrialised countries, colour plastics have been legally banned. In India, the Government of Himachal Pradesh has banned the use of plastics and so has Ladakh district.

Health issues associated with exposure to solid waste are :

➢ Infections
-Skin and blood infections resulting from direct contact with waste, and from infected wounds.
-Eye and respiratory infections resulting from exposure to infected dust.
-Different diseases that results from the bites of animals feeding on the waste.
-Intestinal infections that are transmitted by flies feeding on the waste.

➢ Chronic diseases
-Continued exposure can pose risk of chronic respiratory diseases, including cancers resulting from exposure to dust and hazardous compounds.

Preventive measures
Proper methods of waste disposal have to be undertaken to ensure that it does not affect the environment around the area or cause health hazards to the people living there.
At the household-level proper segregation of waste has to be done and it should be ensured that all organic matter is kept aside for composting, which is undoubtedly the best method for the correct disposal of this segment of the waste. In fact, the organic part of the waste that is generated decomposes more easily, attracts insects and causes disease. Organic waste can be composted and then used as a fertilizer.

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