Segregate garbage or suffer, docs warn after Deonar fire
Unless we start segregating our garbage at home, the number of people with lung diseases, heart diseases and cancers will continue to shoot up, experts saymumbai Updated: Feb 06, 2016 00:16 IST
Dr Rohini Kelkar, a Tardeo resident, has filed several complaints at her local police station about the burning of garbage in public spaces. A cancer specialist, Dr Kelkar knows about the many toxins released from burning garbage that are known or suspected to trigger cancer. “I have complained to the police on numerous occasions when garbage is burnt without any safeguards,” said Dr Kelkar, a member of the team that laid down guidelines for the safe disposal of biomedical waste in Mumbai.
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To ensure that household waste is also disposed of safely, the BMC has been asking citizens to segregate their waste at home for years, but to no avail. From this year, it is also – rather ambitiously – asking citizens to segregate electronic waste too. Municipal officers claimed they are enforcing waste-segregation rules. “Fines levied under the Maharashtra Non-biodegradable Garbage (Control) Act, 2006 are collected at the ward level by assistant head supervisors. All the information is compiled and sent to the deputy chief engineer, solid waste management division,” said a senior official from the BMC’s solid waste management division.
But environment experts said this may not be true. “The problem is that plastic is being burnt alongside biodegradable waste. In the Deonar dumping ground fire, the waste burnt would definitely have included plastic. Burning plastic releases gases that can cause cardiovascular diseases, lung diseases and even cancer,” said Dr Rohini Chowgule from Indian Institute of Environmental Medicine, an agency that studies the impact of pollution on human health.
Dr Chowgule said that many people who develop lung cancer have never smoked or used tobacco. “Exposure to harmful gases released by burning garbage is the only explanation for cancers among non-smokers,” she said. “People all across the city – not just those who live near dumping grounds – are vulnerable to these.”
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Dr Kelkar said that though burning leaves and other biodegradable waste is not harmful, burning garden waste mixed with plastic is dangerous. “Garden waste needs to be composted and plastic needs to be recycled or disposed of in a way that does not lead to the emission of harmful gases. It is a challenge to stop people from burning waste as Indians feel that the best way to dispose of anything is to burn it,” said Dr Kelkar. “We have to look at incinerating – that is, treating waste at high temperatures with pollution-control devices in place,” she added.
Dr Lancelot Pinto, a respirologist at PD Hinduja Hospital in Mahim, said that apart from toxic gases, burning garbage releases fine particles such as soot, which are also harmful. “Long-term exposure to some of these gases can not only cause cancer but also birth defects in children born to mothers who were exposed to them. Soot mixes in water and soil and enters the food chain, eventually reaching human organs. It can cause irritations that take a long time to treat,” said Dr Pinto. He added that the number of people who complain of lung ailments has shot up over the past decade.
Other doctors said when garbage containing plastic is burnt on the streets, it burns at a low temperature and thus emits dioxyins and furans, cancer-causing chemicals that the World Health Organisation classifies as persistent environmental pollutants.