While talking about the waste management issue, we talk about different things like environmental degradation, scarcity of landfill sites, problems with recycling etc. One of the major and probably the most important aspect of garbage mismanagement is its effects on public health. If the waste is not treated properly, it can have various adverse effects on our health. Let us see what these effects are.
Mixed waste in the slum areas is common problem in India
Photo Source: https://greenindiadrive.wordpress.com/waste-management/
How do we come into contact with the waste?
Anyone of us might say that how can waste affect me, if i am not surrounded by it? To get an answer for this, we first need to understand that there are three ways by which we may come in contact with the waste.
- By Touch i.e. direct contact
- Inhaling the chemical released by the Garbage
- By the vectors mainly, flies, cockroaches, rats and dogs.
Health hazards of garbage
The contact with garbage, intentional or unintentional causes different harmful effects to us. Some of the effects are immediate ones while some occur after a period of time.
Polluted water of river sabarmati in the city of Ahmedabad
Photo Source: https://www.youthkiawaaz.com/2016/03/water-crisis-in-india-world-water-day/
Let us take a look at those that happen immediately after coming into contact with the garbage. These include-
When one goes near the garbage, (intentionally or unintentionally) he or she inhales the chemicals coming out from it. This can cause headache.
Asthma is caused mainly due to different kinds of allergens. Such allergens are present heavily in the waste. They can enter our body through respiration and cause asthma.
3. Watery eyes and Itching
Again, the allergens present in the garbage are carried by the wind and can cause irritation to the eyes. Eyes become watery and start itching.
Burning of garbage releases harmful gases leading to the spread of various viral diseases.
The adverse health effects felt over the period of time after coming into contact with the garbage are-
Flies and cockroaches carry the germs from the waste that can cause diarrhea.
The infectious agents coming from the waste enter our body through inhalation or ingestion and further cause Gastroenteritis. It is an intestinal infection marked by diarrhea, cramps, nausea, vomiting and fever.
- Fungal Infections
This is another type of infectious disease caused due to fungi. The fungus is carried through air and can enter our body through skin or breath.
It is a common disease that is spread through the infectious agents. Accumulated waste is a major source of such agents.
Hepatitis is an infectious disease caused due to an encounter with the garbage. The waste pickers or people living in the surrounding are at an increased risk if the biomedical waste is not separated from the rest of the garbage.
It is a condition where patches of skin become inflamed, itchy, red, cracked, and rough. One of the main reasons behind it is, allergens originating from the garbage.
- Congenital Anomalies
Congenital Anomaly is a medical condition that is present at or before birth. These are found largely in waste pickers or people who live near the garbage filled areas.
It is an infection caused by bacteria called Leptospira. Its signs and symptoms range from no symptom to non-specific ones like headaches, muscle pains, and fevers or organ dysfunction. Chances of its occurrence are very high when the waste is mixed with water. The feces of rats and dogs carry the bacteria responsible for this disease. They enter our body through skin.
It is one of the major diseases that many Indian cities have been getting hit by in the recent years. Dengue fever is caused by any one of the four dengue viruses spread by the mosquitoes that thrive in and near human lodgings. When it rains, the water accumulates in different places like drainages, public dustbins or even the bottles and cans thrown in public or private spaces. The mosquitoes spreading the infection reproduce in the water within 15 days. As a result, people in the area are infected by Dengue.
- Metal Poisoning
In a few cases, it is also observed that the solid waste contains metals like mercury and lead. Such metal content present in the waste material can percolate in the ground causing heavy metal poisoning to the fish living in the nearby water bodies. If we eat these fish, we are also at a risk of metal poisoning.
- Continuous Contact and Burning of waste can cause severe health hazards
Apart from the above, it is also observed that those diabetic patients who come in contact with the garbage frequently tend to have a poor blood sugar control compared to others. The exact cause-effect relationship is still unknown but, the phenomenon has been observed by the experts. The same effect is true for cardiovascular pain as well.
Burning the garbage also leads to harmful effects to public health. It emits Carbon Monoxide which proves to be very harmful for our health. Moreover, if plastic is burnt, it emits carcinogenic gases that put us at a risk of having cancer.
Segregation is the key to protect ourselves
Segregated wet and dry waste in two different waste bins.
Unaware of the severe health hazards of the garbage, we end up following the incorrect methods of waste disposal. Mixed waste, especially causes great harm to human health.
Segregation at source is a key element to avoid major issues related with human health. If we keep the waste segregated and hand it over separately, chances of recycling increase. This reduces the amount of waste going to the landfill, thus preventing the harmful effects to those who live near the landfill sites.
Moreover, if we throw the waste in the right place i.e. the separate dustbins for wet and dry waste, no public space or private space will be littered. This will prevent us from maximum of the health issues.
Keeping the waste segregated will also save the waste pickers from catching harmful infections and diseases.
Let’s be a responsible citizen and join hands to segregate the waste at source for our healthier future!
Resource Person: Dr. Prakash Doke, Professor, Department of Community Medicine, Bharati Vidyapeeth Deemed University Medical College
-Filed by Vaishnavi Sambhus