Ambient Air, CANCER-CHECK: Ambient Air, CANCER-CHECK: Water, Water is Life


I stood there staring at the overflowing mound of rubbish in my kitchen.

I think I had not thrown rubbish for ages.

I was a bachelor then and I couldn’t care less…

Life was to be lived on the free lane…

No worries…

No sweat…

Just enjoying the moment.

But I knew that this carefree attitude would be rudely awakened by reality once I decided to clear this dirt…

So the day came and I sought help.

For a moment, I wondered where the plastic paper trash would end up after disposing it.

But it wouldn’t have surprised me if it ended up at the major rubbish dump site in the city of Nairobi in Dandora.

Perhaps this plastic problem is today reduced thanks to the ban on single use plastic paper bags by the Kenyan government.

But still other plastics are here with us…

And possibly here to stay…

Plastic bottles…

Plastic containers…

Plastic buckets and basins…

Plastic utensils…

Plastics have revolutionized our lives in more ways than we could imagine.

But what happens after we use them?

They resist environmental degradation with a vendetta…

They remain where we throw them for years if not decades…

They are a threat to our livestock who mistake them for feeds…

If we can’ t recycle them, how can we get rid of them?


Dandora rubbish dumpsite is the culmination of what happens to some extent in our backyards and in our estates…

Stubborn plastic waste is lit up in flames…

An easier way to deal with an eyesore…

Easier than coming up with recycling strategies…

But at what costs?

Nothing distorts plastics like heat.

Their strong bonds, resistant to environmental breakdown are no match for the power of heat.

All of a sudden, a plastic mound converts into a pungent concoction of thick smoke.

Ever stood near burning plastic?


Among the many risky substances that get released into our air by this process, dioxins are simply unmatched in toxicity.

Long term inhalation carries with it the risk of hormonal problems, infertility, cancer, and possibly diabetes.

Dioxins are an issue of growing concern especially in places where high temperature processes such as rubbish burning take place.

Such rubbish dumps might be out of our social reach but these airborne chemicals tend to be dispersed over long distances and by chance might end up in our water especially if a runoff flows nearby.

Dioxins are literally insoluble in water making them less of a priority in water treatment.

But their prevelance in water is just as significant as how rampant we burn our rubbish near water sources.

Once dispesed into our air, dioxins and other particulates soon find their way onto the surface of the earth in a process called atmospheric deposition: what goes up must come down- kinda thing.

If a body of water is nearby, definitely it will be contaminated…

If a farm is nearby, definitely the food crops will be contaminated.

Which makes careless activities such as rubbish burning a key source of concern when it comes to our water and air.

But dioxins are not the only culprit resulting from our obsession with lighting up stuff.

Our overdependence on fossil fuels has seen an increase in pollutants that not only persist in our air but are increasingly being recognized as precursors to terminal illnesses such as cancer.


Just like dioxins, polycyclics are produced by high temperature processes.

But unlike dioxins, their sources are overwhelmingly from the use (or misuse) of fossil fuels.

Which makes urbanites (like myself) more exposed.

Wherever we find vehicles, there is exhaust and wherever there is exhaust (especially the diesel type) we would be very fortunate not to find traces of polycyclics.

But why bother?

After all, we won’t stop using diesel any time soon…

Long term exposure to polycyclics may lead to health complications such as cataracts and diseases of the liver and kidney.

But among the spectrum of polycyclics in the sooty concoction, none draws attention more than Benzo [a] Pyrene.


Being a by-product of burning coal, charcoal, tar, tobacco and some forms of petrol and diesel, benzo [a] pyrene pervades our air in more ways than we could imagine.

This first class carcinogen associated with instances of lung and colorectal cancer could also find its way into our water after being dispersed into our air.

So just like the infamous dioxins, benzo [a] pyrene makes its entry into our water based on the amount of vehicle exhaust around the water source.

But also, oil leakages from pipelines such as the one that took place in Makueni county, Kenya are increasingly contaminating our underground water with trace levels of polycyclics leading to long term exposure of communities.

Our air could suddenly be converted into a conduit through which dangerous stuff unknowingly ends up in our water.

But what can we do about it?


First, renewable energy might not solve all our problems but might just divert our energy use from fossil fuel in a beneficial way.

Solar energy…

Wind energy…

Biogas among others…

These energy sources hold answers to our pollution problem.

But secondly, recycling of plastic rubbish is a useful approach in tackling the ‘burning’ problem of dioxins in our air.

But it begins with waste separation at source.

One is likely to treat waste in a more dignified way if it is separated with the organic (rotting) matter being diverted to composting or biogas production and plastics to recycling.

Besides, more employment opportunities will be created this way.

The problem might look insurmountable.

However if each one of us takes up the challenge in our own small way, we can make our world better one person at a time.

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