Health effects of Incinerators

An incinerator is a device or unit that is made up of heavy, well protected materials that prevent extreme amounts of heat to escape into the external environment. The heat trapped within the furnace helps efficient and effective burning of the trash. The main purpose of an incinerator is to reduce all kinds of waste deposits into ash, flu gases, particulates and heat (this heat is used to produce electricity). These emissions contain pollutants and therefore should be regulated before passing into the atmosphere. However, incineration in some countries does not include cleaning of emissions to remove hazardous substances before combustion. These inadequate gas cleaning and combustion process control practices pose health threat to the plant workers and the local public as well as the surrounding environment.

Health effects of Incinerators

Emissions that are a result of waste treatment by incinerators include persistent, toxic and bio-accumulative substances such as particulate matters, dioxins and heavy metals (like lead, arsenic and cadmium)

Particulate matter (PM)
Particulate matter is a complex mixture of both inorganic and organic particulates trapped in the air. They may be present in solid, liquid or both forms and is the primary disease- causing incinerator emission. PM is associated with high rates of lung cancer incidences as well as increase in the mortality rate (especially related to heart diseases). These fine particulates carry other toxins that are adsorbed to them and enter the respiratory tract. Increase in the concentrations of PM increases the emergency visits to the hospital. Also, particulates pose severe risk of respiratory death in infants under the age of one year. It hampers the development of lung function, aggravates asthma and causes bronchitis in children.

Dioxins
Air pollutants such as dioxins that come out from the incinerator are very persistent and settle on the vegetation, soil and oceans surrounding the furnace and thereby enter the food chain. The food might travel not only to the local markets but may also disperse over greater distances. Thus, both the nearby as well as the distant populations get affected by these pollutants. Short term exposure of humans to high levels of dioxin lead to respiratory problems whereas long term exposure results in impairment of the immune system, nervous system, reproductive functions and endocrine system.

Heavy metals
Incineration emits some heavy metals that cause a range of serious harmful health effects. Over a period of time, these heavy toxins accumulate in the body of humans. Childhood problems such as autism, allergies, dyslexia, attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), impulsive behavior, lowered IQ levels as well as learning problems are found in children exposed to heavy metal emissions. In adults, dementia, violent attitude and depression are found. Heavy metals such as nickel, cadmium, beryllium and chromium increase the risk of lung cancer.

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