A toxic chemical that causes mental retardation has been found in the blood of school children living near Kiteezi landfill, where Kampala City Council dumps its garbage.
Whereas nearly all the children had some amount of lead in their blood, one fifth had amounts that usually cause mental retardation and irritable behaviour.
Researchers from Makerere and several American universities tested the blood of 165 children between four and eight years and found that 33 had a concentration of 10 micro-grammes per decilitre, which constitutes a condition referred to as Elevated Bloood Lead Level (EBLL).
They chose children from nine schools located 1.5 miles from the dumping site.
Children with EBLL experience unexplained stomachaches, have poor appetite, get angry easily and are hyperactive.
They tend to grow slowly and remain less intelligent than other children their age. In the long run, they may suffer learning disabilities and hearing loss.
In a research paper published in Environmental Health Perspectives, an American-based scientific journal, a panel of eight scientists wrote that the lead originated from the garbage dumping site.
Children are believed to have got it by drinking contaminated water and eating food from crops grown in contaminated soil.
The concentration of lead was higher in children whose homes were closer to the garbage dumping site.
The closer their homes were to the landfill, the higher the amount of lead in their blood.
It was also higher among children from poorer families, who rely more on free water from springs. They had higher amounts of lead in their blood.
“The results of our study are disturbing to say the least and emphasise the importance of effective waste management strategies to curb the prevalence of lead in this population,” said Dr. Leonardo Trasande.
Trasande is an assistant professor of preventive medicine and paediatrics and co-director of the Children’s Environmental Health Centre at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, who headed the research.
“We hope to study this issue further, especially as it relates to the contamination of the water supply.”
Kiteezi landfill is found near Mpererwe, 12km north of Kampala city.
The contaminated water from the landfill oozes into a water stream that runs through several villages before discharging into River Mayanja.
The stream runs adjacent to Gayaza High School.
Dr. Livingstone Makanga, the Kampala City Council medical officer, said they had constructed a water treatment facility at the runoff from the landfill, to make it safer.
He said laboratory tests done by the Ministry of Works had found the water to be free from contaminants. “We are not disputing the research but we would need to further explore the attributes of the research. It may be an incidental finding,” Dr. Makanga said.
The stark truth, however, is that the landfill continues to be a major pollutant partly because it is not operational all the time, and partly because the kind of treatment done cannot remove every pollutant.
An inspection carried out by the National Environment Management Authority in April 2010 indicated that the landfill was still one of the main polluters in and around Kampala.
When NEMA inspectors made a surprise visit, they found that the waste treatment machines had been switched off.
The excuse given by the site managers for switching them off was that it was raining and they feared that the water would cause a short circuit.
They then switched on the machines while NEMA officials were there.
The NEMA officials also found out that the equipment used for covering the garbage with soil had been non-functional for several days.
The inspectors noted that a horrible stench filled the area due to inadequate covering of garbage.
Whereas the researchers did not pinpoint what components of the garbage produce lead, it is an established scientific fact that almost all electronics contain lead.
It is used in batteries, X-rays, solder, printer and computer cables, oxides in glass and ceramics, TVs, phones, calculators and almost all electronic devices. As those items become cheaper and more available, the level of lead pollution increases.
The biggest concern is electronic items do not last long, meaning they quickly find their way to the dumping site, from where they release lead into the environment.
The report notes that there is no system in place to sort electronic waste in Uganda.
Also, although Kiteezi is not supposed to receive hazardous waste, there are no measures in place to prevent the mixing electronic waste with other waste.
Used electronic items are dumped at the site and are also a source of lead poisoning.
Monday, September 27, 2010
From New Vision in Uganda:
Posted by BA Haller at 11:01 AM