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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - While dump dioxin fears confirmed

While dump dioxin fears confirmed

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Stung Meanchey dump: a life threatening, heavy-metal, dioxin mess.

A

two-year Japanese study of Stung Meanchay dump has confirmed serious levels of

dioxin in the soil and dangerously high levels of heavy metals in the metabolisms

of young boys who scavenge at the dump for recyclables.

The study's final report, released on Dec 29, conclusively confirms preliminary analyses

of soil and human tissue first taken from the dump in Jan 1999 that suggested that

people living and working at the dump face critical health risks due to their environment.

Of most concern, according to Dr. Shinsuke Tanabe of Japan's Ehime University's Center

for Marine Environmental Studies, is his study's conclusion that the 260 young boys

who scavenge the dumps debris absorb potentially life-threatening levels of heavy

metals such as mercury, cesium and cadmium.

"Heavy metals affect the nervous system as well as the endrocrine and immune

systems," Tanabe said. "Endocrine disrupters [like heavy metals] are particularly

dangerous because the can cause birth defects."

Perhaps more worringly, Tanabe's study found that the soil at the Stung Meanchay

dump was highly contaminated with dioxin, a highly carcinogenic waste product most

commonly formed when garbage - especially that containing plastics - is burned.

According to Tanabe, the dump's non-stop garbage fires had transformed the first

few inches of soil at the dump into a poisonous, dioxin-laced substance that required

immediate removal in the interests of public safety.

"In Japan, the maximum allowable concentrations of dioxin [in soil] is 1000

picograms (a trillionth of a gram), but at the dump we found concentrations of 1700

picograms," Tanabe said. "This excessive level of dioxin could cause toxic

effects to workers at the dump."

However, a US toxicologist consulted by the Post cautioned that the US government

rules that dioxin, like plutonium, is unsafe in any measure, regardless of how small.

Tanabe said the contaminated soil needs to be removed and safely disposed of and

that he would lobby for international funding to achieve that.

He also urged the Cambodian government to adopt long term strategies to address its

waste disposal problems, advocating the creation of a streamlined garbage separation

and recycling program to ensure that hazardous wastes were properly handled and disposed

of.

"All these techniques are available and widely used in developed countries,

so developed countries should assist Cambodia to solve its waste disposal problems,"

he said.

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