Most of us will live within a 25 mile radius of a landfill for household waste. It is often visible from roads nearby as waste trucks drive up and dump the waste and gulls fly over attracted by the chance of food. Maybe even carrion birds such as kites will be seen over the ugly mountains of waste we humans churn out.
Landfill sites are also known as garbage dumps, rubbish dumps, or dumping ground among other names. Landfills are the earliest forms of waste disposal and treatment. Traditionally, the waste would be left to decay or decompose by itself without being buried.
Landfill should be a last resort. Yet it is still a common sight around the world, we even see those living in poverty scrambling amongst the rubbish to find items of value to try to sell in order to buy food.
There was a UK news item in the news recently of a child, born with a lung disorder, whose health was being threatened by the stink form the landfill near his home. That stink was Hydrogen Sulphide.
Here is an extract from a 2016 study about this gas:
Odor emission from landfill sites related to H2S, which has an extremely low odor threshold (around 0.5 ppb)1 and high toxicity, has become an environmental problem, linked with wide-scale public complaint. H2S can cause eye irritation at concentrations as low as 50–100 ppm, and concentrations of 300–500 ppm may result in severe poisoning, leading to unconsciousness and death1. It can seriously endanger human health and ecology safety. The formation of H2S from landfill sites mainly results from anaerobic biological conversion of sulfate by sulfate-reducing bacteria (SRB)2,3, considered to be obligate anaerobes4.
Obligate anaerobes die in the presence of oxygen – and the definition tells us:
Many obligate anaerobes live in the human body, in places like the mouth and gastrointestinal tract where oxygen levels are very low. Sometimes, these bacteria can accidentally be deposited where they are not supposed to be, causing serious infection. Some obligate anaerobes include the bacteria which cause gangrene and a number of other infections. ………. microscope slide showing the Clostridium genus of bacteria, responsible for gangrene, tetanus, botulism, colitis, and other serious infections.
The UK Health Protection Agency advises on procedures for management of all threats to human health from landfills. They are obviously concerned about all emissions caused by pollutants. Yet, in 2021, in a so called rich country, our landfill sites are not all well managed.
There are alternatives which should now have replaced all landfills.
Here in the UK we are aiming to be a Zero Waste nation, but that means products we buy for use in the home have to be all biodegradable, and very few exist. We are hyper dependent on plastic, and recycled plastic. Packaging for products still relies on non recyclable plastic, though gradually biodegradable packaging is becoming more common.
We cannot move to Zero Waste until we have solutions to this conundrum of bio-persisting plastics.
We still have landfills around the UK because the householder can only separate out recyclables from non-recyclables and drop appropriate rubbish in appropriate -plastic -bins.
There are companies who now tackle landfill restoration, using sophisticated engineering installations to sanitize the landfill (often in a disused quarry) and create a safe wildlife environment and help reduce CO2 emissions.
Landfill installations which exploit the gas and safely manage it as in this Case Study.
Try as we might, we are not trying hard enough to solve our waste problem. This list of worries was put on a US website.
- Only 5% of waste plastic gets recycled with the remaining portion ending up in landfills (3% of it ends up in oceans and rivers)
- If the United States converted all its non-recycled plastics into oil, each year the country would produce 5.7 billion gallons of transportation fuel
- In 2014, the class of plastics, including sacks, bags, and wraps cost 14.3$ to recycle.
- There are more than 2,000 landfills spread throughout the country, we are increasingly exposing our environment to pollution.
- Beneath this disguise that we put on landfills to make them look better, there consists toxins and greenhouse gases that are really dangerous. If we continue with this ignorance, future generations will have a lot on their plates to deal with in terms of health. Every emission from the landfills poses a great danger to the surroundings and its survival.
- Americans dispose of over 1,200 pounds of organic junk which they can easily compost by getting a container for an apartment composting or building a compost bin in the backyard.
Applying to set up a new landfill site in Queensland, Australia reveals the responsible management of gases and leachate to protect the environment. In reading this document there can be no doubt about old and present landfills around the world which are inflicting terrible harm to the planet.
The annual average exposure levels of Hydrogen Sulphide was 6.3 ng/m3, compared to people living close to larger landfills in Rome whose levels averaged 45.ng/m3. At the end of the follow-up period there were 18,609 deaths.
Respiratory symptoms were detected among residents living close to waste sites. These were linked to inhalation exposure to endotoxin, microorganisms, and aerosols from waste collection and land filling.
This is consistent with other studies; however the association between living proximity to landfill sites and cases of lung cancer is a new finding. The authors stressed that further studies need to be completed to confirm this.
This study has been published in International Journal of Epidemiology.
Anyone who lives close to a landfill site (within 5 km) who also is unlucky enough to contract Covid, even if vaccinated, is more likely to die due to the damage to their health already taking place.