How burning trash (garbage) can damage your health

Most people who burn plastic domestic waste do not realize how harmful this practice is to their own health and to their environment.

In fact, current research shows that burning of trash/waste is far more harmful to our health than was previously thought.

People burn plastics for various reasons—either because it is easier than hauling it all the way to the sanitary landfill or to avoid paying for regular waste collection services. For others there may be no waste collection services in their community or vicinity and, in their opinion, burning seems to be the only way to get rid of their waste.

The burning of plastic and other hazardous trash is often practiced in areas with low economic levels or within poor communities.

When trash is burned, harmful air emissions are released directly into the atmosphere without being treated or filtered. Studies indicate that burning of non-biodegradable material increases the risk of heart disease, aggravate respiratory disorders such as asthma and emphysema, may cause rashes, nausea, headaches, can even cause damage within the nervous system, the kidneys or liver.

The burning of polystyrene polymers—such as Styrofoam/foam cups, meat trays, egg containers, yogurt and deli containers—releases styrene in a very harmful form.

Styrene gas can readily be absorbed through the skin and lungs. At high levels, styrene vapor can damage the eyes and mucous membranes. Long-term exposure to styrene can affect the central nervous system, causing headaches, fatigue, weakness, and depression.

Not only these people who are burning the trash are exposed to these pollutants, but also their children, families and neighbors.

The most dangerous emissions can be caused by burning plastics. When such plastics are burned, harmful quantities of dioxins, a group of highly toxic chemicals, are emitted. Dioxins are the most toxic to the human organisms. Dioxins are carcinogenic and a hormone disruptor.

Being persistent, they accumulate in our body-fat and thus mothers give it directly to their babies via the placenta. Dioxins also settle on crops and in our waterways where they eventually wind up in our food, accumulate in our bodies and are passed on to our children.

Pollutants released from burning plastic waste are transported through the air, either at short or long distances and are then deposited onto land or into bodies of water.

A few of these pollutants persist for long periods of time in the environment and have a tendency to bioaccumulate—which means they build up in predators at the top of the food web.

Bioaccumulation of pollutants usually occurs indirectly through contaminated water and food rather than breathing the contaminated air directly. In wildlife, the range of effects associated with these pollutants includes cancer, deformed offspring, reproductive failure, immune diseases and subtle neurobehavioral effects.

Humans can be exposed indirectly just like wildlife, especially through consumption of contaminated fish, meat and dairy products.

Non-biodegradable pollution, pollution that accumulates in the environment and may appear in the food chain, is too often the results of anthropogenic causes (man-made).

Post-Hurricane Maria saw an exponential increase in these dioxin/toxic fires within the last six (6) months in Dominica (between September 2017 and April 2018).

A silent and subtle killer may have increased in potency, in our food and water supply, as a result.

It may take us all, in unison, to assist “mother nature” in attempting to curb the regrettable potential risk to the health of both human and wildlife on the “Nature Isles of the Caribbean”.

Let us do our best to preserve our health by good environmental practices, and by educating and sensitizing our family, friends, and neighbors.

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  1. Jules Mark
    June 3, 2018

    Don’t shoot the messenger. Should this not come from the Garbage collection dept/company stating: how to divide up garbage, where to bring them for collection(if home collection not available), their contact number, email address or website, Their published pick up dates per area and announcements (on website) of cancellations to prevent rat infestation due to un pick up garbage and reminders not to burn garbage especially plastics.

    Now, what do they do with the garbage??? Is t shipped , burnt or landfill? or ANother?
    How environmental friendly are we? Or just passing the buck?

  2. Daniel J Tanner
    June 3, 2018

    How is Dominica to dispose of plastic waste? The article doesn’t say. Most Dominicas simply litter.

  3. Wisewoman
    June 2, 2018

    Unfortunately most people who burn trash will not see this article. I have complained to Environmental Health department about this for years. This article should be printed and distributed to every home. The ignorance about this issue is astounding as I have seen adults with young children standing around burning piles of trash, watching it burn and breathing in toxins from plastics, Styrofoam, batteries, engine oil, rubber and whatever else they think they are “cleaning up”. What about folks who insist on throwing glass bottles into the sea, usually breaking them on the shoreline rocks along the way? Let us not forget the folks who rather than burn just take their garbage and dead animals and toss them into the sea.
    It is a very sad state of affairs when one tries to educate their neighbor about such things and they curse you. In most parts of the world seafront property is highly valued. Here it’s a garbage dump. Dominica is a mess!

    • Dominican
      June 4, 2018

      I agree with you but we can make a start by teaching children right from the start in all schools. This should be part of the ciriculum. This Must be a government initiative as should be a restriction on the use of plastic bags and styrofoam containers, combined with a national plan for recycling. Without such measures a climate resilience plan is meaningless.

  4. anonymous2
    June 1, 2018

    From what I have seen, I think that it is more a matter of convenience in getting rid of stuff that is no longer wanted. Garbage service and recycling leave something to be desired and many people do not have the means to take stuff to the dump and they also do not want to pay anything. And then there are those that may know but just don’t care and burn everything.

  5. Malatete
    June 1, 2018

    Thank you for highlighting the dangers of this bad practice . It is not only the burning of every-day plastics that is hazardous to the environment and our health. Also included should be pvc, used in pipes and fittings, doors and windows, shutters etc. And even the disposal of tarpaulins coated with this material should be done in a very controller manner. The burning of tires is particularly unsafe since they contain pollutants like carbon black and heavy metals, which affecti our health. Last but not least of burning grass/ bush for land clearance is not is not healthy either as it gives rise to nitrogen pollution. All these practices are detrimental to the government’s aim to become a climate resilient country. If we do not tackle this in a serious and professional way climate change resilience will be no more than a catch phrase.

  6. Floridian Diaspora
    June 1, 2018

    Many baboons who are in support of the Dominica lazy party (DLP) say that DNO is one sided and only try to bring out news that make their worthless government look bad. The fact that these bewildered lab rats fail to realize is that skeritt is using them in a simulation exercise to see how stupid they are, how much poverty and misery dumb-in-a-cans can take before they revolt against him. Like the lab rats they truly are, they are very much pleased to live in the filth that this place has. Just look at how nasty roaeau is, the first climate resilient city in the world. Not even Tokyo, Hong Kong, or New York can compare. We do even have garbage trucks but we climate resilient.

  7. Geek
    June 1, 2018

    There is an issue similar to this going on in the Bahamas. Planning and lack of foresight is to blame for this occurrences. The inability to adapt to climate change through implementation of strategies which would reduce these ailments is obvious. Where are the re-cycling and garbage disposal policies. It starts as simple as understanding that paper, tin and rubber do not burn at the same rate. Having them in on pile is more than dangerous. We need to think proactively and with innovation.

  8. ??????????
    June 1, 2018

    Forestry Division isn’t this article a little too late. After all the smoke that has been generated after hurricane Maria. This is something that I knew all along and spoke to persons about this but fell on deaf ears. I personally never burned anything but all around was smoke. Do you know that a lot of harm has already been done to persons –

    • Me
      June 1, 2018

      It is never too late to amendement one’s ways. The key is education.

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