Residents living close to landfills run the risk of contracting several health problems if local authorities do not take adequate measures to line landfills, or drain off leachates.

While every landfill site must be studied individually, some of the toxic substances that emerge as leachates are likely to be common to improperly handled garbage at landfills across nations.

Health conditions can range from sweating, bleeding stomach disorders, to blood disorders, birth defects, even cancer, medical literature tells us.

Clearly, the sites around both landfills in Chennai have clearly been contaminated as residents talk of water that is pungent, and causing allergies even with merely touching it. Unless measures are taken to arrest this leachate contamination, the residents of Kodungaiyur and Perungudi might as well write off their groundwater.

Health effects of leachates on humans

Leachate

When water flows through improperly disposed waste and percolates to the ground, contaminating the groundwater, sometimes with toxic substances drawn from the waste it passes through. Water could be rain, or contained in the waste itself.

The leachate then pollutes the water with these substances, making nearby water sources unusable for consumption.

Health effects could be from an acute/short exposure, or long term chronic exposure to leachates from landfills.

Chemical/metal Health effects from acute exposure

Lead = Abdominal pain, diarrhoea, vomiting, confusion, drowsiness, seizures

Mercury = bloody diarrhoea, dehydration, renal failure

Cadmium compounds = metallic taste, cough, chest pain, nausea, diarrhoea, skin irritation

Nickel = skin irritation, dermatitis, diarrhoea, gum disease

Toluene = tremors, convulsions, coma

Phenols/cresols = burning pain in the mouth and throat, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, sweating, coma, shock

Chemical/Metal Health effects from long term exposure

Lead = anorexia, abdominal pain, constipation, chronic nephropathy, hypertension,

Mercury = tremors, memory loss, seizures, coma, irritability, acute kidney failure, decrease in platelets, anaemia that follows gastrointestinal bleed

Cadmium compounds = anaemia, kidney damage, possible prostate and lung problems

Phenols and cresols = renal failure

Benzene = blood-related disorders

Source: University of Edinburgh's electronic medical curriculum

My Chennai My Right, an inititative by The Hindu

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