Advanced Disaster Prevention Engineering
Disaster due to solid waste mismanagement
A disaster is the tragedy of a natural or human-made hazard (a hazard is a situation which poses a level of threat to life, health, property, or environment) that negatively affects society or environment.
Developing countries suffer the greatest costs when a disaster hits – more than 95 percent of all deaths caused by disasters occur in developing countries, and losses due to natural disasters are 20 times greater (as a percentage of GDP) in developing countries than in industrialized countries.
A natural disaster is a consequence when a natural hazard (e.g., volcanic eruption or earthquake) affects humans.
The United Kingdom based charity Oxfam publicly stated that the number of people hit by climate-related disasters is expected to rise by about 50%, to reach 375 million a year by 2015.
1. Floods, 2. Tropical storms/Cyclones, 3. Earthquakes, 4.Volcanic eruptions
Disasters caused by human action, negligence, error, or involving the failure of a system are called man-made disasters. Man-made disasters are in turn categorized as technological or sociological. Technological disasters are the results of failure of technology, such as engineering failures, transport disasters, or environmental disasters. Sociological disasters have a strong human motive, such as criminal acts, stampedes, riots and war.
Top ten natural disasters according to death of people
Rank Event Location Date Death Toll (Estimate)
1. 1931 China floods
China July-November, 1931 1,000,000–4,000,000
2. 1887 Yellow River flood
China September-October, 1887 900,000–2,000,000
3. 1556 Shaanxi earthquake
Shaanxi Province, China
January 23, 1556
4. 1970 Bhola cyclone
November 13, 1970
5. 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake/tsunami
Indian Ocean December 26, 2004
6. 526 Antioch earthquake
Antioch, Byzantine Empire
May 20, 526
7. 1976 Tangshan earthquake
Tangshan, Hebei, China
July 28, 1976
8. 1920 Haiyuan earthquake
Haiyuan, Ningxia-Gansu, China December 26, 1920
9. 1839 India Cyclone
India November 25, 1839
10. 1975 Banqiao Dam flood
Zhumadian, Henan Province, China
August 7, 1975
Health impacts of solid waste
Modernization 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 centres from where it is collected by the area municipalities to be further thrown into the landfills and dumps. However, either due to resource crunch or inefficient infrastructure, not all of this waste gets collected and transported to the final dumpsites. If at this stage the management and disposal is improperly done, it can cause serious impacts on health and problems to the surrounding environment.
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 infectious diseases. 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. The plague outbreak in Surat is a good example of a city suffering due to the callous attitude of the local body in maintaining cleanliness in the city. Plastic waste is another cause for ill health. Thus excessive solid waste that is generated should be controlled by taking certain preventive measures.
Impacts of solid waste on health
The group at risk from the unscientific disposal of solid waste include – the population in areas where there is no proper waste disposal method, especially the pre-school children; waste workers; and workers in facilities producing toxic and infectious material. Other high-risk group include population living close to a waste dump and those, whose water supply has become contaminated either due to waste dumping or leakage from landfill sites. Uncollected solid waste also increases risk of injury, and infection.
In particular, organic domestic waste poses a serious threat, since they ferment, creating conditions favourable to the survival and growth of microbial pathogens. Direct handling of solid waste can result in various types of infectious and chronic diseases with the waste workers and the rag pickers being the most vulnerable.
Exposure to hazardous waste can affect human health, children being more vulnerable to these pollutants. In fact, direct exposure can lead to diseases through chemical exposure as the release of chemical waste into the environment leads to chemical poisoning. Many studies have been carried out in various parts of the world to establish a connection between health and hazardous waste.
Waste from agriculture and industries can also cause serious health risks. Other than this, co-disposal of industrial hazardous waste with municipal waste can expose people to chemical and radioactive hazards. Uncollected solid waste can also obstruct storm water runoff, resulting in the forming of stagnant water bodies that become the breeding ground of disease. Waste dumped near a water source also causes contamination of the water body or the ground water source. Direct dumping of untreated waste in rivers, seas, and lakes result in the accumulation of toxic substances in the food chain through the plants and animals that feed on it.
Disposal of hospital and other medical waste requires special attention since this can create major health hazards. This waste generated from the hospitals, health care centres, medical laboratories, and research centres such as discarded syringe needles, bandages, swabs, plasters, and other types of infectious waste are often disposed with the regular non-infectious waste.
Waste treatment and disposal sites can also create health hazards for the neighbourhood. Improperly operated incineration plants cause air pollution and improperly managed and designed landfills attract all types of insects and rodents that spread disease. Ideally these sites should be located at a safe distance from all human settlement. Landfill sites should be well lined and walled to ensure that there is no leakage into the nearby ground water sources.
Recycling too carries health risks if proper precautions are not taken. Workers working with waste containing chemical and metals may experience toxic exposure. Disposal of health-care wastes require special attention since it can create major health hazards, such as Hepatitis B and C, through wounds caused by discarded syringes. Rag pickers and others who are involved in scavenging in the waste dumps for items that can be recycled, may sustain injuries and come into direct contact with these infectious items.
Occupational hazards associated with waste handling
Skin and blood infections resulting from direct contact with waste, and from infected wounds.
Eye and respiratory infections resulting from exposure to infected dust, especially during landfill operations.
Different diseases that results from the bites of animals feeding on the waste.
Intestinal infections that are transmitted by flies feeding on the waste.
Incineration operators are at risk of chronic respiratory diseases, including cancers resulting from exposure to dust and hazardous compounds.
Bone and muscle disorders resulting from the handling of heavy containers.
Infecting wounds resulting from contact with sharp objects.
Poisoning and chemical burns resulting from contact with small amounts of hazardous chemical waste mixed with general waste.
Burns and other injuries resulting from occupational accidents at waste disposal sites or from methane gas explosion at landfill sites.
Source – Adapted from UNEP report, 1996
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.
The role of plastics
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 industrialized 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. Other states should emulate their example.
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.
The Four Big Pollution Diseases of Japan (四大公害病 shidaikoukaibyou) were a group of manmade diseases all caused by environmental pollution due to improper handling of industrial wastes by Japanese corporations. Although some cases of these diseases occurred as early as 1912, most occurred in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s.
Name of disease Cause Blame Year
Chisso chemical factory
1932 – 1968
Niigata Minamata disease
Shōwa Electrical Works
sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide
air pollution in Yokkaichi
mining in Toyama Prefecture
Plague is a zoonotic disease circulating mainly among small animals and their fleas. The bacteria Yersinia pestis can also infect humans. It is transmitted between animals and humans by the bite of infected fleas, direct contact, inhalation and rarely, ingestion of infective materials. Plague can be a very severe disease in people, with a case-fatality ratio of 30%-60% if left untreated.
Why waste management is important
Waste that is not properly managed can create serious health or social problems in a community.
Pests and disease
Food waste attracts pests and vermin, like feral pigs and rats. These pests and vermin can start or spread disease in the community. Piles of old garden waste and pieces of old furniture left in yards can shelter vermin and help them to breed. Dengue fever can be spread by mosquitoes that breed in anything that can hold water, like inside old car tyres, litter and even old palm fronds lying on the ground!
Poison and pollution
Illegally dumped pesticides, motor oil and other chemicals can contaminate land, creeks, and water supplies. People drinking or swimming in polluted water can get sick. Councils are required by law to clean up land contaminated with chemicals that they dispose of. Chemical clean-ups can be very expensive.
Human waste and diseases
It is very important to keep human waste out of water supplies. Human waste (faeces, poo, kuma, urine, wee) contains diseases that make people sick. Human waste can get into the local water supplies from leaking septic tanks, releasing contaminated water from sewerage treatment plants, dirty nappies, leaking sewerage pipes and people using local creeks as a toilet.
Injury and disease
People can get diseases like tetanus and leptospirosis if they cut or scratch themselves on pieces of metal, nails or glass. Children can be seriously hurt by playing with old car batteries or household cleaners that they find lying around.
Litter can be a problem in any community. Broken bottles and tins, for example, can cause injury if people don’t put them into bins. Mosquitoes and other vectors can breed in water trapped in old tyres and bottles.
People are more likely to drop litter in places that already have litter lying around. If they see litter on the ground, they may think it is OK for them to also throw their litter on to the ground. Without providing ways for people to stop littering, the whole community can be affected because they don’t want to live in a dirty town.
As well as community awareness campaigns on litter, councils can reduce litter by providing permanent or temporary bins in places such as:
outside community stores
at sporting fields
at cultural and special events
in parks and other family gathering areas.
The bins should prevent animals or birds scavenging in the rubbish, and keep out rain and wind. Do a search on the Internet or in your local telephone directory for rubbish bins. There are many companies around Australia who can provide you with different sorts of bins.
Social and economic problems
Messy yards and streets can have a bad affect on the attitudes of local people. It can also be hard to get people – such as nurses and tradespeople – to work or live in a community where the environment looks untidy or unsafe.
People can get seriously sick from badly managed waste problems. If they have to leave the community to spend time in hospital, the patient and their families can be badly affected by the separation.
If waste is managed well, the cost of fixing problems does not become a burden on council finances.
Effects of Improper Waste Disposal
1. Many health problems have been associated with improper toxic waste disposal on behalf of companies and individuals alike. Many people who present health conditions have been exposed to high levels of toxic waste over an extended period of time through the pollution of groundwater, air and soil. The most common health problems include birth defects and cancers.
2. Arsenic is one common toxic waste that has caused a myriad of health problems. This toxic waste is most often disposed of by hospitals or manufacturing plants. Any contact with this toxic substance is dangerous. Arsenic can cause a number of health conditions in humans when it is improperly disposed of. Some of these conditions include certain types of cancers. Depending on the type of contact with this chemical, arsenic can cause skin cancer, bladder cancer, kidney cancer, lung cancer and cancer of the liver. Arsenic exposure can also cause internal bleeding, inflammation of the heart, changes in blood vessels in the heart and brain, gastrointestinal problems, kidney poisoning that leads to renal failure, elevation of liver enzymes, destruction of nerve cells leading to systemic disorders, spontaneous abortions, congenital malformations, irritation to the lining of the eyes/nose/throat, bone marrow depression, and changes in skin pigmentation or skin thickening (according to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, 2008).
3. Dioxins are chlorinated hydrocarbons. Many plastics contain dioxins, so improperly disposing of these plastic substances or burning these substances can lead to toxic waste exposure. Not all dioxins contain the same levels of toxicity, but precaution should be taken when dealing with any materials that contain dioxins due to the dangers associated with the chemical, since all dioxins are known to some degree to cause health issues.
Some of these health issues include biochemical effects and cellular effects. These cellular effects include apoptosis, hypoplasia, hyperplasia, metaplasia, and neoplasia. Dioxcins are also carcinogenic, which means they can cause all sorts of cancers in individuals on their own without the need for another toxic element to aid the process along. Other confirmed human health issues known to be caused by dioxins include a skin disorder known as chloracne, mild liver damage, and peripheral nerve damage. Studies are still being done as of 2009 to confirm that other health issues such as respiratory cancers, prostate cancer, malignant tumors of the bone marrow, liver dysfunction, photosensitive skin, neurobehavorial development in infants, and men less likely to father a male child are caused by exposure to dioxins (according to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, 2008).
4. Improperly disposing of lead materials, lead paint or other products that contain lead is another common example of improper toxic waste disposal. Exposure to lead has been known to cause many different health issues in individuals of all ages. To understand the list of possible health affects, you must first understand the acronyms for certain conditions. ALAD equals aminolevulinic acid dehydratase. EP stands for erythrocyte porphyrin. The acronym NCV stands for nerve conduction velocity. Finally, the acronym GFR signifies glomerular filtration rate.
Particular abnormal lead levels in children have been shown to cause health issues such as depressed ALAD activity, neurodevelopmental effects, sexual maturation, depressed levels of vitamin D, elevated EP, depressed NCV, depressed hemoglobin, and colic. In adults, the health issues proven to be caused by lead exposure include depressed GFR, elevated blood pressure, elevated EP in females, enzymuria or proteinuria, peripheral neuropathy, neurobehavorial effects, altered thyroid hormone, reduced fertility, and depressed hemoglobin. In elderly individuals, the health issues to be caused by lead exposure include depressed ALAD and neurobehavioral effects (according to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, 2008).