Burning Garbage: A Health Hazard

Burning Garbage: A Health Hazard

Experiments have shown that Dioxins affect a number of organs and systems.

Waste-to-energy or energy-from-waste is the process of generating energy in the form of electricity and/or heat from the primary treatment of waste. Waste to Energy is a form of energy recovery. Most processes produce electricity and/or heat directly through combustion, or produce a combustible fuel commodity, such as methane, methanol, ethanol or synthetic fuels, 

Incineration, the combustion of organic material such as waste with energy recovery, is the most common Waste to Energy implementation. Incinerators reduce the volume of the original waste by 95-96 percent, depending upon composition and degree of recovery of materials such as metals from the ash for recycling

Incinerators have electric efficiencies of 14-28%. In order to avoid losing the rest of the energy, it can be used for e.g. district heating (cogeneration). The total efficiencies of cogeneration incinerators are typically higher than 80% (based on the lower heating value of the waste).

The method of using incineration to convert municipal solid waste (MSW) to energy is a relatively old method of Waste to Energy production. Incineration generally entails burning waste (residual MSW, commercial, industrial and RDF) to boil water which powers steam generators that make electric energy and heat to be used in homes, businesses, institutions and industries. One problem associated with incinerating Municipal Solid Waste to make electrical energy, is the potential for pollutants to enter the atmosphere with the flue gases from the boiler. These pollutants can be acidic and in the 1980s were reported to cause environmental damage by turning rain into acid rain.

In thermal Waste to Energy technologies, nearly all of the carbon content in the waste is emitted as carbon dioxide (CO2) to the atmosphere (when including final combustion of the products from pyrolysis and gasification; except when producing bio-char for fertilizer). Municipal solid waste (MSW) contain approximately the same mass fraction of carbon as CO2 itself (27%), so treatment of 1 metric ton (1.1 short tons) of MSW produce approximately 1 metric ton (1.1 short tons) of CO2.

In the event that the waste is landfilled, 1 metric ton (1.1 short tons) of MSW would produce approximately 62 cubic metres (2,200 cu ft) methane via the anaerobic decomposition of the biodegradable part of the waste. This amount of methane has more than twice the global warming potential than the 1 metric ton (1.1 short tons) of CO2, which would have been produced by combustion. In some countries, large amounts of landfill gas are collected, but still the global warming potential of the landfill gas emitted to atmosphere In addition, nearly all biodegradable waste is biomass. That is, it has biological origin. This material has been formed by plants using atmospheric CO2 typically within the last growing season. If these plants are regrown the CO2 emitted from their combustion will be taken out from the atmosphere once more.

Another very dangerous chemical found in the solid waste is Dioxin. Dioxins are environmental pollutants. They belong to the so-called “dirty dozen” – a group of dangerous chemicals known as persistent organic pollutants (POPs). Dioxins are of concern because of their highly toxic potential. Experiments have shown they affect a number of organs and systems. Once dioxins enter the body, they last a long time because of their chemical stability and their ability to be absorbed by fat tissue, where they are then stored in the body. 

The chemical name for dioxin is: 2,3,7,8- tetrachlorodibenzo para dioxin (TCDD). The name "dioxins" is often used for the family of structurally and chemically related polychlorinated dibenzo para dioxins (PCDDs) and polychlorinated dibenzofurans (PCDFs). Certain dioxin-like polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) with similar toxic properties are also included under the term “dioxins”. Some 419 types of dioxin-related compounds have been identified but only about 30 of these are considered to have significant toxicity, with TCDD being the most toxic.In terms of dioxin release into the environment, uncontrolled waste incinerators (solid waste and hospital waste) are often the worst culprit dioxin disturbs the endocrine balance in the reproductive systems of women in particular. Endometriosis, spontaneous abortion and complicated pregnancies may result from dioxin poisoning in women.


Effects of Prenatal Exposure

Babies who have been exposed to high levels of dioxin may be developmentally delayed, have central nervous system problems, or be diagnosed with learning disorders later in life. Both the Birth Defects and Chemical Body Burden websites report that children who have been exposed to dioxin are more likely to be hyperactive or have IQ deficits. These effects may be passed through either the father or the mother, and are compounded by later environmental exposure to dioxin.

Dioxin is clearly linked to cancer, especially liver cancer, thyroid cancer, upper digestive tract (stomach) cancer, and skin cancers. Breast cancer also has a clear link with dioxin. Dioxin has been linked to Hodgkin’s disease and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, prostate cancer and brain cancer. There is no safe dose or threshold for dioxin, which means any amount could potentially cause cancer.

Another important thing which is being debating all over the world is Global Warming. Global Warming is the increase of Earth’s average surface temperature due to effect of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels or from deforestation, which trap heat that would otherwise escape from Earth. This is a type of greenhouse effect.

Human beings have increased the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere by about thirty percent, which is an extremely significant increase, even on inter-glacial timescales.  It is believed that human beings are responsible for this because the increase is almost perfectly correlated with increases in fossil fuel combustion, and also due other evidence, such as changes in the ratios of different carbon isotopes in atmospheric CO2 that are consistent with "anthropogenic" (human caused) emissions. The simple fact is, that under "business as usual" conditions, we’ll soon reach carbon dioxide concentrations that haven’t been seen on Earth in the last 50 million years.

DIOXIN and CO2 are two very dangerous chemicals which comes out in the atmosphere by burning of solid waste. Burning of solid liquid waste in the form of incinerators are the major contributors of these two hazardouschemicals.

When the whole world is talking of the precautions to be taken care of while investing in new technologies. It would be a catastrophe for a place like Jammu and Kashmir to go for such technologies which in spite of giving favour to the state can prove disastrous for the place and the people as well.


(Author is Assistant Professor IMPA)