Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Phnom Penh smothered in smelly, dangerous haze as landfill fire continues burning

Phnom Penh smothered in smelly, dangerous haze as landfill fire continues burning

A large plume of smoke rises from the Dangkao landfill in Phnom Penh's Dangkao district on Friday.
A large plume of smoke rises from the Dangkao landfill in Phnom Penh's Dangkao district on Friday. Alessandro Marazzi Sassoon

Phnom Penh smothered in smelly, dangerous haze as landfill fire continues burning

A putrid haze that has bedeviled Phnom Penh since Monday night will likely continue as a landfill in Dangkao district continued to burn on Friday, creating health risks for the capital's residents.

Workers at the Dangkao landfill on site on Friday attributed the fire, which continued to produce a thick cloud of smoke, to hot weather and a buildup of gases caused by the decomposing rubbish.

“It’s from the gases inside [the landfill] and the hot weather. It’s like this for a few days,” said one landfill worker who requested anonymity as he was not authorised to speak to the media.

Though unaware of the fire before being contacted by The Post, Ministry of Health spokesman Ly Sovann warned of the public health risk it posed. He advised people to avoid the fire, wear masks, and immediately go to a local health centre or hospital if they experience severe coughing or difficulty breathing.

“Authorities should stop the fire of [the] landfill that could [have an] effect to air quality and affect human health,” he said.

Municipal governor Khoung Sreng said that up to 30 fire trucks - nearly the entire municipality's force - had been sent to the dumpsite, but he also minimised the scope of the fire, saying that just “a little” smoke continued to rise from the landfill.

“However it has little smoke because the mountains of garbage are piled up,” he said.

Sreng confirmed the blaze was caused by a methane buildup from the decomposing trash and said the continued deliveries of garbage were not being deposited where the fire still burns.

On Friday, Cintri garbage trucks continued to roll in and out of the landfill. Seng Sorida, a representative of Cintri, said the company has no responsibility for the landfill as it belonged to the municipality, and declined to comment further.

“Cintri trucks still go in and out to fill garbage and it’s okay to fill [it] in [the landfill],” she said before declining further comment.

According to a 2002 report by the United States Fire Administration, landfill fires pose considerable health risks. The smoke contains fine particles “which can aggravate preexisting pulmonary [lung] conditions or cause respiratory distress.”

The Ministry of Environment’s Office of Air Quality sensor, located atop the ministry building, has measured an average PM2.5 particle concentration of 28.01 micrograms per cubic meter so far for the month of March, lower than February’s average of 37.27 – when wildfires peaked throughout the country - but still higher than the World Health Organization’s guidelines recommended level of 25 micrograms per cubic metre or less.

Toxic smoke and gases are also a risk from landfill fires, according to the report, which notes that the danger and level of toxicity for humans depends on the length of exposure and the type of material burning. Carbon monoxide from such fires can deprive vital organs of oxygen “which can cause permanent damage or death”.

“Another serious concern in landfill fires is the emission of dioxins…exposure to high levels of dioxins has been linked to cancer, liver damage, skin rashes, and reproductive and developmental disorders,” the report states.

According to the US Environmental Protection Agency even a minuscule amount of exposure to dioxins can be linked to human health problems.

MOST VIEWED

  • Purging Sihanoukville’s past with a new masterplan

    Amid illicit activities, haphazard development and abandoned projects, the coastal city of Sihanouk province needs a reset to move forward. A new masterplan might be the answer to shake off its seemingly mucky image to become the Shenzhen of the south Gun toting, shootouts, police

  • Chinese may be first in tourism revival: PM

    Cambodia's tourism industry is gearing up to roll out the red carpet for Chinese travellers after Prime Minister Hun Sen on September 17 indicated that the Kingdom could soon throw open its doors to international holidaymakers vaccinated against Covid-19 – starting with guests from China. Cambodia Chinese

  • 'Pursue your goals, reach out to me': Young diplomat tapped as envoy to South Korea

    Chring Botum Rangsay was a secretary of state at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation before being designated as the new Cambodian ambassador to South Korea. According to her official CV published on the foreign ministry’s website, she started her first government

  • Tourism concerns laid bare

    To ensure the success of plans to reopen the tourism market for international visitors, Cambodia must pay utmost attention to two primary determinants – the ongoing paradigm shift in domestic tourism services towards the ‘new normal’, and the factors influencing choices of destinations among foreign holidaymakers.

  • Covid jab drive for 6-11 age group to begin Sept 17

    Prime Minister Hun Sen has permitted Covid-19 vaccinations for over 1.8 million children aged 6-11 across the country from September 17 in order for them to return to school after a long hiatus. Hun Sen also hinted that vaccinations for the 3-6 age group will follow in

  • No ‘Crown Prince’ exists to buy France football club: ministry

    The Ministry of the Royal Palace has denied media reports that a Cambodian “Crown Prince” had purchased the AS Saint Etienne football club of France’s top-flight LIGUE 1 at the cost of €100 million ($117 million). In a press statement on September 19, the ministry stressed that Cambodia