Know Your Landfill Poisons

By Nityanand Jayaraman
India Resource Center
March 25, 2002

In Chennai, a major port city in southern India, two sister companies, French multinationals Onyx and Vivendi, are working at cross-purposes. While Vivendi works to commercialize scarce fresh water in the city, Onyx collects the city's garbage and dumps it in one of the most important freshwater ecosystems in the city. See the rest of the story at Trashing Water is Good Business.

All landfills leach poisons. Depending on the location of the landfill, the migration of the poisons into the groundwater can take place immediately or over a long period of time. In places such as Pallikaranai, where the dumping takes place in and around water bodies, leachates (the concentrated poisons from garbage) can enter surface and groundwater immediately. Additionally, the constantly smoldering landfill fires also give rise to dioxins and furans which are the most poisonous chemicals known to humanity. The box below outlines the health effects of some of the poisons that are likely to leach from municipal waste landfills.

For a detailed discussion on landfills and leachates, visit the Friends of the Earth site.

Health Effects of Toxic Chemicals in Landfill Leachates
Arsenic Cancer causing; cardiovascular, peripheral nervous system, reproductive and lung/respiratory effects; liver and skin damage
Cadmium Probable carcinogen and teratogen; toxic to embryos; effects on Central Nervous System (CNS), reproductive and lung/respiratory systems; kidney damage
Chromium Carcinogenic, probable mutagen, lung/respiratory effects, allergic sensitization, eye irritation
Lead Probable teratogen, kidney and brain damage, CNS and reproductive effects, blood cell disorders; negatively affects intelligence, growth and development of children.
Mercury Teratogenic (organic mercury substances); CNS, cardiovascular and lung/respiratory effects; kidney and visual damage
Nickel Probable carcinogen, possible teratogen, lung/respiratory effects, allergic sensitization, eye and skin irritation, liver and kidney damage
Benzene Human carcinogen, mutagen, and possible teratogen; central nervous system (CNS), peripheral nervous system, immunological and gastrointestinal effects; blood cell disorders; allergic sensitization; eye and skin irritation
Chloroform Probable human carcinogen and possible teratogen; CNS and gastrointestinal effects; kidney and liver damage; embryotoxic; eye and skin irritation
1,1-dichlorethane Embryotoxic; CNS effects; kidney and liver damage
Ethylbenzene CNS effects; kidney and liver damage; upper respiratory system, eye and skin irritation
Methylene Chloride Possible carcinogen; CNS, lung/respiratory system, and cardiovascular effects; blood disorders; eye and skin irritation
Tetrachloroethylene Probable carcinogen; CNS and lung/respiratory effects; embryotoxic; kidney and liver damage; upper respiratory tract and eye irritation
Toluene Possible mutagen and carcinogen; CNS and cardiovascular effects; kidney and liver damage; upper respiratory tract, eye and skin irritation; and allergic sensitization
Trichloroethylene Possible carcinogen and teratogen; CNS , kidneys, liver, cardiovascular system, and lung/respiratory system effects; blood cell disorders; skin, eye and upper respiratory irritation
1,1,1-trichloroethylene Carcinogenic; mutagenic; CNS and lung/respiratory effects; kidney and liver damage; eye and skin irritation
Vinyl Chloride Carcinogenic; mutagenic; possible teratogen; CNS effects; kidney and liver damage; blood cell disorders; and skin irritation
Xylene CNS and cardiovascular effects; kidney and liver damage; upper respiratory and eye irritation

SOURCE: Adapted from New Jersey Fact Sheets (from Right-to-Know Network) and The Poisoned Well (Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund, 1989)

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