One of Africa's largest waste dumps, the Dandora Municipal Dumping Site in Nairobi, is a threat to the health of children living nearby and the city's environment, a new study shows. Tests found high levels of lead and other heavy metals in the blood of area children, who also suffer from respiratory diseases, including chronic bronchitis and asthma.
Dandora, located in a low-income residential area about eight kilometers (five miles) east of Nairobi center, is the main dumping site for most of the solid waste generated by the 4.5 million people living in the Kenyan capital. The study was commissioned by the UN Environment Programme, UNEP, which has its headquarters in Nairobi.
Dumping at the site is unrestricted. Industrial, agricultural, domestic and medical wastes - including used syringes - are strewn all over the site. Plastics, rubber and lead paint treated wood, hazardous waste containing poisonous chemicals were found on the dumpsite.
The Nairobi River passes by the dump and some of the waste makes its way into the river, which carries these environmental and health risks to communities near the dump and downstream who may be using the water for irrigation of food products and in their homes.
Every day, scores of people, including children, from the nearby slums and low-income residential areas use the dump to find food, recyclables and other valuables they can sell as a source of income. As they pick over the garbage, they are inhaling the noxious fumes from routine waste burning and methane fires.
The study examined 328 children from two to 18 years of age living around the Dandora waste dump. Half the children tested had blood lead levels equal to or exceeding the internationally accepted action levels of 10 micrograms per decilitre of blood, including two children with concentrations of over 29 and 32 micrograms.
UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said, "We had anticipated some tough and worrisome findings, but the actual results are even more shocking than we had imagined at the outset."
The children have been exposed to pollutants such as heavy metals and toxic substances through soil, water and smoke from waste burning with implications for respiratory, gastrointestinal and dermatological or skin diseases.
Exposure to high lead levels is also linked with damage to the nervous system and the brain, while cadmium poisoning causes damage to internal organs, especially kidneys, and cancers.