Are you inhaling carcinogens?

Written by
Dr Ayub Macharia

Burning waste2
Everyone of us generates waste within our residence. The types of waste generated include plastic bottles, polythene bags, styrofoam, PVC, tires, white and brown paper, glass bottles, diapers, electronic waste, organic waste among others which have the potential to cause dangerous air pollution.
Burning of solid waste is a popular practice in urban and rural areas where waste management infrastructure is absent. Most people feel that it is okay to burn waste as this may contribute to reducing the amount of waste in the environment. Little do they know that the smoke generated is a health hazard.
It’s notable that open burning of waste is mainly done in areas inhabited by poor to middle income livelihoods. In middle to affluent communities, there is some order in terms of procurement of waste handlers to transport waste away to designated waste receptacles and hence little burning is done.
Burning the solid waste produces dangerous toxic smoke. The smoke consists of many tiny particles some which cannot be seen by the naked eye. These smoke particles are easily blown by wind and dispersed over a wide area. Hence burning of solid waste can affect people within a large area.
The smoke mainly from burning plastic and polythene bags contains “dioxins” and “furans” which are highly toxic pollutants known to cause cancer. The smoke contains hundreds of other contaminants which may cause or aggravate lung problems. This smoke pollution can be blown by the wind for some distance. When the contaminants fall to the ground and settle on subsistence foods, there is another opportunity for people, animals and plants to come into contact with dangerous substances.
The tiny smoke particles hanging in the air are easily inhaled and can get deep into the lungs where they settle. After long exposure, a layer of particles settle in the moist lung surface and blocks the lung from carrying out its regular function of being a surface for gaseous exchange. The lung surface should be thin enough to allow exchange of gases and should not be a reservoir for foreign particles. The harmful tiny smoke particles potentially increase the risk of asthma, lung and heart disease, cancer, pneumonia, other infectious lung disease and other cardiovascular problems.
Hence, the next time you see anybody burning waste in your neighborhood, please take action to stop them since you are exposed to pollution and ill health.

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