New reports reaffirm that the 30-acre Dandora landfill in Nairobi, Kenya, puts those who live and work nearby at high risk of cancer, infertility and other serious illnesses.
Since 2007, the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) alert officials that the landfill is a serious threat to the health of an eastern suburb of Nairobi. The warnings stated that “since the dumping of waste is unlimited and unmanaged [there]people are at risk [of] contracting blood-borne diseases such as hepatitis and HIV/AIDS. This happened 11 years after the site was created initially declared completely full in 1996, but continued to be a place to dump trash.
One of the main reasons for the inaction around this site is the reliance on local community members as a source of income.
The waste picker community in Dandora is made up mostly of women and children who sift through the endless piles of rubbish in search of anything they can use or sell. A waste picker, Mariam Makeba, explained that the main items they are looking for are “plastic bottles, cardboard boxes, jute bags, bones and pig food”. Above all, these people sort the garbage without any protective equipment. Therefore, these Kenyans are susceptible to severe cuts and injuries.
However, these wounds pale in comparison to the much more distressing news that the Dandora landfill is the source of cancers, skin disorders, respiratory abnormalities, blood disorders, etc., according to UNEP. reportentitled “Implications of the Dandora Municipal Dumping Site in Nairobi, Kenya.”
UNEP data revealed that samples taken from the landfill contained lead levels at 13,500 ppm (parts per million) and mercury levels at 46.7 ppm, which greatly exceeded the acceptable exposure level for the environment. World Health Organization (WHO) 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 serious health complications that children and women now suffer from after living and working near this site.
Of the 328 children who were examined and treated after living and schooling near the dump, approximately 50% had respiratory conditions 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 itching of the skin. Specific cancers linked to this toxic exposure included liver, lung and skin.
Moreover, according to Center for Disease Control (CDC), working with heavy metals can increase the risk of miscarriage, stillbirth or a child with a birth defect. Other studies also found that “heavy metals impair several reproductive functions in both males and females, such as decreased sperm count, motility, viability, spermatogenesis, hormonal imbalance,” etc.
Along with the dangerously high levels of lead and mercury found in the Dandora landfill, these reproductive health issues pose a serious threat that could have lasting consequences for the region.
The serious health problems caused by the Dandora landfill highlight the urgent need for assistance. At the bare minimum, waste pickers should be provided with protective equipment such as boots, gloves, goggles and masks to partially avoid exposure to toxic waste. Ideally, the Kenyan government should declare an immediate halt to the dumping at Dandora and begin efforts to safely remove the waste from the area. With thousands of women and children whose health and safety are at risk, there is no excuse for allowing the Dandora landfill to continue operating.