What’s for breakfast today? Milk, butter, cheese & dioxins


Buffaloes feeding on the garbage at Mandur landfill.

In one of the most disturbing findings throwing light on the consequences of illegal dumping in open landfills, concentration of dioxins among people and animals living around the landfills has emerged to be the highest in India.

The reason: Dioxins, one of the most dangerous chemical compounds which gets released into the atmosphere when municipal and medical waste gets burnt in open landfills, finds its way into the cows and buffaloes that feed on the hazardous garbage. The people who depend on the dairy products from these animals end up victimising not only themselves, but also their future generations. The less said the better about the pain suffered by the bovine creatures.

Prof. Tatsuya Kunisue of Ehime University, Japan, who delivered a lecture on “Dioxin Pollution in Asian Emerging Countries” at IISc today, stated that he found the highest concentration of dioxins in people and children living around Perungudi landfill near Chennai. His study conducted between 2000-03 collected soil and human breast milk samples from not just this site but also Philippines, Cambodia and Vietnam. Although the dioxin concentration in the air and soil was much higher in Philippines and Cambodia, only in India did he find it entering the human body at an unbelievable pace. His research found people not only letting cows and buffaloes feed on the garbage freely, but also depending on these animals for milk. This led to the conclusion that the bovine population feeding on the landfill garbage pass on the poison to humans.

Let’s first see what dioxins are as elucidated by Prem Shankar Jha: “Dioxins are insoluble in water and when they settle on land and water bodies, they are absorbed in their entirety by terrestrial and aquatic vegetation. They travel up the food chain into animals and fish that feed on plants and thence into humans. Since living organisms cannot metabolise them, they are found in very high concentrations in meat, fish, milk and eggs. In human beings, a prolonged exposure to dioxins—through a ‘rich diet’—impairs the functioning of the liver and the immune and reproductive systems, and raises the incidence of cancer. In sum, dioxins shorten our lifespan. Men have no way of expelling them. Women can, but only by passing them to foetuses in their wombs or breast-feeding their babies.”

Are Bangalroeans safe?

Fire break-out at Mandur landfill.

Fire break-out at Mandur landfill.

If it can happen in Perungudi, there’s no reason why it cannot happen in Mandur as well. Although dioxins can form through both spontaneous combustion and intentional incineration, what’s more worrying is the highest degree at which they get formed when burnt at low temperatures, just as it happens in open landfills. You might know how often fires break out in Mandur suffocating the people to no end. Incinerating at very high temperatures brings down the dioxin formation but that does not mean it is the safest bet either.

If Bangaloreans think that they are far away from the dioxin menace, maybe it’s high time we dug deeper. The milk from these areas may enter the market and we may be consuming this milk as ignorantly as the people living around the landfill. If this sounds far-fetched, let’s just be aware of the fact that dioxins do travel through air, soil and water contamination and the distance between the ‘privileged population’ and the landfills is too short to fetch any solace.

Back to the basics

This study was conducted over 10 years ago and since then, the population of the city has increased manifold and so has generation of garbage. It doesn’t take scientific research to analyse that the environment we are living in is becoming inhabitable and we are the primary culprits.

So, back to the basics: Please reduce, reuse and recycle. And most importantly, segregate the waste, compost kitchen waste and bring down your dependence on landfills.


Pic source: Anandmahal.com & thehindu.com.

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