Stung Meanchey dump: a life threatening, heavy-metal, dioxin mess.
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
"All these techniques are available and widely used in developed countries,
so developed countries should assist Cambodia to solve its waste disposal problems,"