Proper waste management is essential to preserving the environment, and illegal dumping of household, commercial, and industrial waste is a serious problem. Illegal dumping not only pollutes the environment, but it can also lead to adverse health effects in humans and animals. Illegal dumping results in contaminated water, dangerous levels of air pollution, and a host of other related issues.
In less developed nations, large companies often use loose regulations or lax enforcement to their advantage by dumping waste directly into waterways. Even when they are asked to change their dumping practices, these companies may bribe officials so they can continue to illegally dump while giving off the appearance of compliance. It’s estimated that between 8 and 9 percent of the total global disease burden can be directly attributed to pollution, and this figure may be even higher in undeveloped countries. Here, we explore the effects of illegal dumping and what people can do to reduce it.
Runoff and Water Quality
When it comes to the environment, water quality is almost always impacted by most forms of pollution. Illegal dumping is especially harmful to rivers, lakes, and the ocean, and unscrupulous individuals and companies often use them as waste receptacles without thought of the repercussions. Contamination of drinking water is the most serious consequence for humans. In China, for example, a 2013 government study revealed that nearly 60% of the groundwater in the country’s urban areas is “very” or “relatively” polluted, meaning that it is unfit to drink without treatment.
Another major issue stemming from illegal dumping in waterways is runoff. When debris and chemicals impede the natural flow of a river, creek, or storm drain, the water will pool, leading to flooding and uncontrolled overflow into other waterways.
Threats to Humans and Animals
Illegal dumping can adversely affect both humans and animals, and there have been a variety of studies that link water contamination to the spread of disease. From cancer to liver disease, humans located near sources of heavy illegal waste dumping frequently have a higher risk of developing life-threatening conditions.
One major risk to humans and animals is the presence of viruses and other pathogens present in areas contaminated by illegal dumping. Hantavirus is one such virus, and it is spread by rodents and other vermin that are attracted to areas with large amounts of trash, including illegal dump sites.
Animal habitats are also negatively impacted, since animals in the wild inadvertently consume illegally dumped waste, which can lead to severe health complications and death. In addition, toxins released from the waste may leach into the surrounding soil, harming plants and the animals that eat them.
Recently, a man in Baoding, China, succumbed to exposure to toxic fumes from a kitchen drain at his workplace. The fumes were directly traced to illegally dumped toxic waste near the restaurant where he worked. Officials later determined that a parking lot operator had accepted payments from 20 factories in exchange for permission to dump waste on its property. Although this is an example of just one incident, there are similar stories all over the world, and the tragic death of this man reiterates the many problems associated with illegal dumping.
In addition, the air we breathe may also be poisoned by the illegal burning of waste. Even burning household trash releases dangerous chemicals into the air, including, but not limited to, chlorinate compounds and a variety of carcinogenic toxins, as indicated by International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). Smoke from burning tires and plastics is particularly hazardous.
Another source of air pollution is the improper disposal of household waste, particularly household appliances. Many household appliances, such as refrigerators, contain potent substances that have been linked to ozone layer depletion.
What Can You Do?
Illegal dumping is a considerable problem all over the world, and the only way it will be resolved is if people change their behavior. For those who care about the environment, it’s important to not directly contribute to the problem by improperly dumping household trash. Proper disposal may take more time, and in some cases may cost a little more in the form of landfill fees, but the time and cost is worth it in order to protect the water we drink and air we breathe.
If your city offers curbside recycling, take advantage of this service and be sure to dispose of items properly. Check with your local municipality for proper disposal methods and ensure that you adhere to local waste management ordinances. Once you know the rules, following them is relatively easy. For hard-to-recycle items, arranging pickups by local recyclers is recommended in order to keep these items out of landfills.
Educate yourself on the proper way to dispose of household products such as pesticides, batteries, and cleaning products. These items can harm the environment and contaminate water, air, and food sources; household chemicals also pose hazards to waste management workers.
In addition to taking personal responsibility for proper waste disposal, speaking up when you notice an individual or business engaging in illegal dumping is another proactive step to take. It’s not recommended to confront these people directly, but instead report the activity to the appropriate authorities. As the saying goes, if you see something, say something.