WASTE campaign

The project aims to shape attitudes in household waste incineration in Hungary and Romania, as well as in the other European member states. Awareness raising of dangers and possible solutions.

The project runs: 01.01.2021. -30.06.2021.

Air pollution may be much more hazardous
than follows from official monitoring data

Illegal burning of solid wastes in households exposes the population to much more serious health risks than previously assumed. This has been revealed recently by an international research project.

Burning of solid waste in households is illegal in most countries as it releases vast amounts of harmful substances into the air, among others polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH). These compounds are among the most hazardous combustion products. They even pose a serious health risk to unborn children.

Last year, the Clean Air Action Group (CAAG) reported that a new study conducted by the Air Chemistry Research Group of the University of Pannonia found that exceptionally high levels of PAHs are released into the air when burning solid wastes in households. Although the burning of firewood also emits significant amounts of air pollutants, the burning of equal amounts of plastic wastes releases hundreds of times more PAHs into the air. Upon burning wood-based wastes (glossy papers, chipboard, fiberboard, scrap furniture) in residential stoves, 30 times more PAHs are emitted per unit of mass than when burning dry firewood – even though wood-baste wastes are not even considered to be waste by many people.

A new study has recently been completed as a follow-up to the first research: Hungarian and Romanian researchers have jointly assessed the potential contributions of residential waste burning to airborne particulate pollution (PM10) in selected settlements in Hungary and Romania. In all sampling locations, the researchers identified specific tracer compounds that are emitted solely from the burning of different types of solid wastes. They estimated that the contribution of illegal waste burning to the reported concentrations of PM10 may be as high as up to five percent.

Judit Szegő, environmental researcher and project manager of CAAG, concluded: “Although the five percent contribution may seem to be low for the first sight, considering that the health impact of these five percent can be hundreds of times higher than that of the remaining 95 percent, these results are extremely sobering. According to these new findings, it is clear that previous conclusions drawn from the official monitoring data in Hungary and Romania (and certainly in many other countries, too) significantly underestimate the health risks of PM10 pollution in places where people live. Previous international studies that assessed the impact of PM10 pollution on public health have not considered the specific nature of household waste burning emissions as these studies have been generally carried out in Western countries, where residential burning of waste is practically unknown."

András Lukács, CAAG’s President, added: “The new research further supports the long-stated demand of environmental NGOs that the government and local municipalities should take immediate and effective actions against illegal waste burning. Among others, raising public awareness, helping the people living in energy poverty, providing accessible waste disposal facilities, and, last but not least, strengthening the authorities dealing with violators are needed. These measures would cost only a fraction of the losses attributable to the severe health impacts of domestic waste burning."

The Clean Air Action Group has prepared a summary of the new study.

Source of image: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M61XjcCUvJ8&t=513s

Brutal amount of toxic, carcinogenic substances is
emitted when burning solid waste at homes

Vast amounts of harmful chemicals that severely endanger our health are released into the air during the illegal burning of solid waste at households in several EU member countries. These dangers have been confirmed by a study published recently in the scientific journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, which describes the results of a cutting-edge European research led by the University of Pannonia, Hungary.

Residential waste burning is strictly banned in the European Union, therefore, no targeted research has ever been conducted on the emission of harmful substances released into the air upon burning different types of solid wastes in home stoves although such illegal burning is widespread in most Central and Eastern European countries. Recently, such a study has been carried out for the first time in the world in a European project headed by Hungarian scientists. They burned in a cast iron stove solid wastes that are often thrown into the fire by the citizens, such as PET bottles, tires, packaging materials, PVC floor pieces, mixed combination of textiles and chipboard. During their combustion, the researchers measured how much and how toxic air pollutants enter the air compared to the emissions of burning dry firewood under the same conditions.

Burning wood is also releases significant amounts of harmful substances into the air. It has been demonstrated that when solid wastes are burned in household stoves, significantly higher quantity of respirable particulate matter (PM10) and even more toxic chemicals are released into the air than by burning dry firewood.

It has been found that the burning of plastic wastes (such as PET bottles, polyfoam or clothing) releases up to 700 times (!) more toxic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) into the air compared to the otherwise also significant emissions from wood burning. PAHs are ubiquitous combustion products and pose significant hazard for human health as they are carcinogenic and may also damage DNS. Burning of wood-based solid waste (like glossy paper, chipboard, fiberboard, window frames, furniture), which many people do consider as a fuel and not as waste, should also be strictly avoided, as the released air pollutants are still about 30 (!) times more carcinogenic than in the case of burning dry firewood.

András Gelencsér, an academician heading the Air Chemistry Research Group of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences at the University of Pannonia and the international research consortium told to the Hungarian environmental NGO Clean Air Action Group (CAAG) that from these shocking results it is obvious that substantive and effective measures must be taken immediately to reduce the health hazards posed by the extensive and illegal activity of solid waste burning in households.

The Environmental Advisory Office of CAAG receives thousands of complaints each year from residents suffering from toxic fumes from residential waste burning in their neighbourhoods. CAAG always try to help them with advice, but that is far from enough. This research also confirmed the importance of fighting against illegal waste burning in households. This requires raising public awareness, helping people living in energy poverty, ensuring that household waste and rubbish is disposed of in an environmentally-sound way, and last but not least, strengthening the authorities dealing with offenders.

CAAG prepared a summary of the study.

Judit Szegő
environmental scientist
CAAG’s project manager