AUB: waste crisis poses 'enormous' health hazards

Those who worked near the random waste dumps spoke of nausea, diarrhea and vomiting, while others complained from severe shortness of breath, cough, and runny nose.
17 November 2016 | 16:51
  • By T.K. Maloy
  • Last update: 17 November 2016 | 16:51

BEIRUT: For those who work in areas awash with random waste dumps that are sometimes burned, they are 400 percent more likely than others to catch diseases in the digestive and respiratory systems.

These grim statistics, released Nov. 17, were according to a study conducted by a team of researchers from the American University of Beirut (AUB).

The research team selected two sample groups of Lebanese male workers, all aged between 18 and 60, in two different regions. The first sample of 111 people worked in a waste-free area. The second sample consisted of 110 people working in an area swept with random waste dumps that are repeatedly burned.

The study ran in December 2015-February 2016 and was based on a questionnaire answered by the workers about their health conditions. It turned out that those who work in areas where waste prevailed suffered from constant fatigue, headache, and insomnia, compared to the workers in waste-free areas.

The findings revealed that these health conditions were not limited only to these symptoms, but also encompassed other problems in the digestive and respiratory systems.

Those who worked near the random waste dumps spoke of nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting, while others complained of severe shortness of breath, cough, and runny nose. Workers said that the severity of symptoms resulted in hospitalization for some of them.

The school scientific team said that the mismanagement of the waste and the burning of trash have affected the health of workers in areas where waste dumps prevailed, with at least a 400 percent increase of severe health symptoms, compared to workers who were not exposed to waste dumps.

This ratio indicates that exposure to waste, being near it or breathing air polluted by waste burning, lead to serious health hazards, especially in the respiratory and digestive systems, the research team found.

According to the researchers, it is possible that this crisis will result in a more dangerous impact on vulnerable groups such as the children and the elderly.

The study proposed some interventional policies to contain this health disaster, such as reducing the factories' waste generation by modifying the production and recycling methods as well as adopting preventive protection such as wearing masks.

Perhaps most complex of all was the creation of a regulatory framework and guidelines for the treatment of waste at the national and regional levels, and the establishment of a national committee to follow up and monitor the process of training on waste disposal.

The AUB study was supervised by Dr. Monique Shaaya from AUB's Faculty of Health Sciences and consisted of third-year medical students Rami Morsi, Rawan Safa, Shirine Fawwaz, Serge Baroud and Jad Farha.

Lebanon's trash crisis has gone on for over a year, with fits and occasional stops, but little effort has been made to adopt a comprehensive waste management solution. An average view for a commuter coming to Beirut from Mount Lebanon, and elsewhere is to see smoke contrails, rising from the city.

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