Ministry of Environment warns against releasing toxic substances into the air, urging people to prevent their waste – and their health – from going up in smoke
Photo by: SOVANN PHILONG
A woman burns trash in Phnom Penh on Monday morning. Ministry of Environment officials want to educate people about the risks of inhaling toxic fumes from burning refuse. Cintri hopes to outlaw the practice.
THE government has warned people against burning garbage in public areas, saying it releases toxins that are damaging to people's health and the environment.
"Residents both in the countryside and in Phnom Penh often burn garbage on the street, and sometimes plastic waste at dump sites is burned accidentally," Khieu Muth, secretary of state of the Ministry of Environment, said at a workshop on the issue Friday.
"The burning of garbage such as plastic bags, medical waste and food scraps can generate dioxins and furans in the environment," he said.
According to the World Health Organisation, exposure to certain dioxins, which are a pollutant, and furans, a toxic food byproduct, has shown to cause cancer. Skin infections and liver damage are also common side effects from prolonged exposure to the chemicals.
Exposure to the two substances comes primarily from living near hazardous waste sites or incinerators, as both become toxic when heated.
Exposure can also come from working in or near industries involved in producing certain pesticides, at paper and pulp mills, and from operating incinerators.
"Considering the amount of waste in Cambodia at the moment, the level of dioxins and furans is still not significant when compared to other countries. However, we are still concerned about this problem because here people don't yet understand about proper garbage management or the effect on our health of these two toxic substances," Khieu Muth said.
"What we can do now is create an effective mechanism for the management of garbage and to educate people about the negative effects of dioxins and furans on their health," he said.
To help solve the problem, garbage collection company Cintri wants the Ministry of Environment to outlaw the burning of dangerous materials or streetside garbage.
"We want there to be a law to stop people from disposing of garbage in a disorderly or careless manner, especially through burning," Cintri Vice President Seng Chamreoun said Sunday.
However, many of Phnom Penh's residents may unthinkingly burn their rubbish in response to the perceived inefficiency of existing garbage collections. The volume of garbage produced in the capital is on the rise, said Seng Chamreoun, adding that Cintri collected an average 950 tonnes of garbage a day in 2008 in the city and other provinces. This has increased to 1,000 tonnes a day in 2009 so far, he said.
He argued that existing rubbish collections are sufficient, and that burning trash can have a far more harmful long-term effect on the capital's air.
"We want to live in a clean environment. ... So, I think it is a good idea to have a law to fine people for burning [garbage]," he said.