New reports reaffirm that the 30-acre Dandora trash dump in Nairobi, Kenya is putting those who live and work nearby at a high risk of cancer, infertility, and other severe illnesses.
Since 2007, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has been alerting officials that the landfill is a serious health threat to an eastern Nairobi suburb. Warnings stated, “since waste dumping is unrestricted and unmanaged [there], people are at risk [of] contracting blood-borne diseases such as hepatitis and HIV/AIDS.” This came 11 years after the site was originally declared completely full in 1996, yet has continued to be a spot for dumping trash.
One main reason for the inaction surrounding this site is the reliance local community members have on it as a source of income.
The waste picker community in Dandora is composed primarily of women and children who sift through the endless piles of trash for anything they can use or sell. One waste picker, Mariam Makeba, explained that the main items they look for are “plastic bottles, carton boxes, gunny bags, bones and pig food.” Importantly, these individuals sort through the garbage without any protective gear. Consequently, these Kenyans are susceptible to cuts and serious injuries.
However, these wounds pale in comparison to the much more distressing news that the Dandora dump is the source of cancer, skin disorders, respiratory abnormalities, blood disorders, and more according to UNEP’s report, titled “Implications of the Dandora Municipal Dumping Site in Nairobi, Kenya.”
UNEP’s data found that samples taken in the dumpsite contained lead levels at 13,500 ppm (parts per million) and mercury levels at 46.7 ppm, which both greatly exceeded the World Health Organization’s (WHO) acceptable exposure level to these heavy metals. For reference, an acceptable level of mercury is two ppm. The implications of such high exposure can be seen in the severe health complications that children and women are now suffering from after living and working near this site.
Out of the 328 children that were examined and treated after living and schooling adjacent to the dumpsite, about 50% had respiratory ailments and blood lead levels exceeding internationally accepted toxic levels, and 30% had abnormalities in their red blood cells. The main physical symptoms of this prolonged exposure were upper respiratory tract infections, chronic bronchitis, asthma, fungal infections, inflammation, and itchiness of the skin. The specific cancers linked to this toxic exposure included liver, lung, and skin.
Furthermore, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), working with heavy metals can increase the likelihood of having a miscarriage, stillbirth, or a child with a birth defect. Other studies have also found that “heavy metals alter several reproductive functions in both males and females like a decrease in sperm count, motility, viability, spermatogenesis, hormonal imbalance,” and more.
With the dangerously high levels of lead and mercury found in the Dandora dump, these reproductive health problems pose a serious threat that could have long-lasting consequences for the region.
The severe health complications that the Dandora landfill has created highlight the urgent need for assistance. At the bare minimum, waste pickers should be provided protective gear such as boots, gloves, eyewear, and masks to partially prevent exposure to toxic waste. Ideally, the Kenyan Government should declare the immediate termination of dumping at Dandora and begin efforts to safely remove the trash from the area. With thousands of women and children’s health and safety at risk, there is no excuse for allowing the Dandora dump to continue to operate.
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