Brutal amounts of toxic, carcinogenic substances get into our bodies when we burn waste

Huge amounts of harmful substances that endanger our health are released into the air during the illegal incineration of household waste at home. This was stated in a study published in the scientific journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, which describes the research results of the University of Pannonia at the head of an international consortium.

Domestic incineration of waste is banned in the European Union and since it is strictly enforced in most countries, no serious research has been carried out on the harmful substances released into the air during such incineration. This space was filled by the new research of Hungarian scientists, supported by the European Union. They burned waste that is often thrown into the fire by Hungarians, such as PET bottles, tires, packaging materials, PVC floor pieces, mixed combination of textiles and chipboard in a cast iron stove as well as firewood as a reference. During the combustion, the researchers measured how much and how toxic air pollutant enters the air.

To illustrate the dangers of household waste incineration, the researchers compared its effects to wood burning. (Burning wood even in itself releases significant amounts of harmful substances into the air.) It has been shown that when waste is burned in household burners, much more harmful particles (PM10) and much more toxic, carcinogenic chemicals are released into the air than when burning firewood.

It has been found that the incineration of plastic wastes (such as PET bottles, polyfoam or clothing) releases 100 to 700 times and even thousands of times (!) More toxic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) into the air compared to the emissions from wood burning. PAHs are among the most dangerous combustion products for health, they are carcinogenic, they also damage the hereditary material of cells. The incineration of species-like waste (paper, particle board, fiberboard, furniture) should also be avoided, as the air pollutants they emit are about thirty (!) more carcinogenic than by burning dry firewood.

András Gelencsér, Corresponding Member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Head of the Air Chemistry Research Group of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences at the Pannon University and the professional leader of the research said the Clean Air Action Group that their research will be extended to the contribution of toxic substances from municipal waste incineration to local air pollution in each settlement. It can be stated even based on the current results that immediate substantive measures must be taken to eliminate municipal waste incineration.

Katalin Tarr, head of the Environmental Advisory Office of the Clean Air Action Group, said their office receives thousands of complaints a year from residents suffering from toxic fumes from waste incineration. “We always try to help them with advice, but that is far from enough. This research also confirmed the importance of eliminating household waste incineration. This requires raising public awareness, helping people living in energy poverty, ensuring that household waste and rubbish is disposed of in a user-friendly way, and last but not least, strengthening the authorities dealing with offenders.” The Air Working Group prepared a summary of the study in English in Hungarian.