Landfills and Water Contamination

Landfills and Water Contamination
Did you know that in less than two weeks of time, we human beings are producing physical production that equals to the entire yearly production of year 1900? According to a report in Europe, every person produces about half a ton of trash every year and every American produces around a ton of waste.  A new European Commission report states that France, United Kingdom and Germany have become the leading dustbins of European continent.

In most countries, littering has become an enormous issue regardless of the laws that are in place to prevent it. People continue to throw their garbage anywhere and everywhere as they please. According to a statistics, 75% of Americans in last five years have admitted to litter and the same statistics show that people who eat at fast food restaurant are more likely to litter than other people. Apart from the food wastes, most of the discharges often contain toxic waste .The batteries are among the most hazardous waste. Even though most countries have excellent recycling systems in place, most batteries end up in nature.

Apart from littering, we mostly use landfills to dump our wastes. In European Union, there are 8500 landfills. This represents 1.2 billion tons of municipal wastes. Some cover tens of hundreds of hectares. Some 460,000 tons of garbage is dumped every year in these land fills spanning 80 hectares.

In the U.S., on the other hand, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency states that land fills and industrial impoundments contaminate around 0.1% to 0.4% of exploitable surface water resources. Especially, landfills have become one of the major threats to their aquifers. Water most of the times percolates through these landfills which allows it to pick up variety of toxic wastes such as organic chemicals, explosives, bacteria, viruses and metals. Since 50 percent of drinking water in United States is coming from well water, the ground water contamination has become a serious issue in many parts of U.S.

Studies show that the pathogenic organisms that are found in ground water due to its deadly chemical composition have deleterious consequences on human health. The actions that are required to clean these aquifers are very expensive and demanding. Therefore, we need to find other ways to control contamination and then try to clean the water that’s already contaminated.

As mentioned above, landfills are one of the major sources of ground water contamination. This article aims to focus on various environmental and health hazards that are related it. It also discusses feasible solutions that may help us to reduce the amount of trash we dump in nature.


are generally located in rural areas. They are biologically active areas where toxic substances are concentrated and are released into the

atmosphere and rivers:

  • Benzene, found in some plastics, oils, synthetic fibers, detergents, causes leukemia in prolonged exposure.
  • Toluene, from paint thinners, nail polish, hair spray, adhesives, and rubber, can damage the nervous system and kidneys.
  • Carbon tetrachloride, from refrigerators, aerosols, cleaning fluids, degreasing agents and fire extinguishers, damages the liver, kidneys and nervous system.
  • Methyl mercury, which comes from fluorescent bulbs, batteries and latex paints, is likely to cause serious neurological damage.

Toxic liquids are formed in landfills when acids come into contact with metals. These liquids contain lead, cadmium, chromium and mercury, and carcinogens such as polychlurure biphenyls and dioxins. In Britain, landfill is responsible for one third

cases of groundwater pollution.

Landfills are not only affecting our fresh water system but they are also affecting our environment. For example: methane released by bacteria that “work” in landfills to degrade wastes accounts for 10% of human emissions of this gas. Methane is considered to be one of the green house gases that affect our environment when its amount increases over a certain limit.

Finally, explosions and fires are common in landfills that produce dioxin, a substance extremely dangerous to human health. For example, in Sweden, for 400 discharges, there are 220 fires per year. Do all the facts make you shudder? Then remember these are just few glimpses of the actual situation.

In North America, and some Asian and European countries, the land fills are less visible but just as dangerous as the visible ones.

Is there a


to this situation? Yes there are viable solutions that exist: recycling and composting. These solutions are more expensive, but it would create thousands of jobs and save our environment.

Toxic waste

s that are found in landfills

Worldwide, 500 million tons of hazardous toxic waste is dumped in the wilderness, mostly in industrialized countries. This waste includes chemicals, plastics, mining, and those of paper and leather.

The “strategy” now by many industrialized countries to get rid of this toxic waste is to abandon them in tanks, throwing them in landfills or bury them underground. All these types of storage are, over time, subject to leaks.

85% of water reservoirs in Silicon Valley in California were more or less contaminated by such waste from

IT industry. This is because we produce 3 kg of hazardous waste in order to produce a chip of 2 grams.

The volume of waste “on site” has increased by 25% between 1997 and 2002 in the United States and Canada. In The Netherlands, 28,000 industrial sites are polluted by toxic waste. In Russia, almost all the waste from the oil is simply thrown in the environment without any care. For example, 10% petroleum product in Russia leaks and contaminates the soil which is equal to an annual volume of 200 oil spills.

Apart from the above regions, some other parts of the world are also severely affected. For example, along the 3300 km of Mexico – USA border, most American assembly plants cheerfully dump their waste in the ground without caring about the environment. Only a quarter of these plants return the waste to United States for reprocessing.

In most cases, “eliminating” the waste is about moving them elsewhere, often to developing countries through garbage boats (which are sometimes scuttled in the middle of the sea). 100 000 tonnes of obsolete pesticides have been sent by the industrialized countries to developing countries. Nice gift, especially if it is known that the storage conditions in these countries are often poor and this creates very real health problems. 80% of U.S. electronic waste (old computers, televisions, copiers, telephones, and VCR) end up in Asian countries like China, India and Pakistan, where they are often removed in precarious conditions.

The free trade agreements like GATT and NAFTA agreements amplify this problem by making it very difficult to regulate the above exchanges. The volume of “exports” of toxic waste from the United States to Mexico doubled between 1994 and 2000, specifically after the NAFTA agreements.  Those who oppose this often end up in court, fighting losing battles. For example the municipality of Guadalcazar in Mexico wanted to deny an American company, the Metalclad Corporation, to open new “installations” of toxic waste on a site that is already contaminated. Metalclad brought the city to court, claiming that the ban constituted an “illegal appropriation of profits,” and demanded compensation. The Mexican government was then forced to pay a fine of sixteen million and a half to that company.

Health hazards related to toxic waste

Toxic wastes are often highly persistent: their threat weighs over several generations. It is estimated that hundreds of thousands of people die every year as a result of exposure to chemicals. Exposure to persistent organic pollutants (POPs) may cause neurological defects and reproductive system. Exposure to lead, cadmium, mercury and chromium products that are present in virtually all electronic devices that end up in landfills, can lead to birth defects, cancer, kidney damage, damage to the immune system and severe learning disabilities.

A survey by the U.S. government also showed increased incidences of bladder, lungs, and stomach, rectum and blood cancers as a result of increased exposure to these toxic wastes.

A Mexican government study showed that 16.4% of the population of the city of Chllpancigo, that hosts many maquiladoras, suffers from skin diseases and 8.5% from respiratory diseases. Babies in this area are even born with anencephaly, fatal birth defects and sometimes they are born with their skull opened.

What can we do against land-based pollution?

Sort our wastes! For fermenticible wastes (which can decompose under the action of bacteria, insects and earthworms), it is best to compost them! Yes, the composters are not just recycling the grass and plants! All food waste can be composted. Much of this waste can be sorted, and recycled! Statistics show that 80% of the items that are in landfills could be recycled.

Every house should put an effort to recycle their waste. Separating plastic, styroform and paper is not a difficult task. If we do recycle these wastes then we could develop them into novel products or reutilize them. If we don’t then we would be producing more landfills that would not just pollute our environment but also contaminate our ground water resources. Now it’s in our hand to decide as to what is going to be our choice.

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