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Nov 23, 2012

Air Pollution due to Improper Waste Management - Open Burning and Landfill Fires


1. Emissions of Particulate Matter, Hydrocarbons, and Carbon Monoxide 
2. Carcinogenic Dioxins/Furans Emissions

1. Emissions of Particulate Matter, Hydrocarbons, and Carbon Monoxide 

A 2010 study by the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute, “Air Quality Assessment, Emissions Inventory and Source Apportionment Studies: Mumbai” found out that open burning and landfill fires are a major source of air pollution in Mumbai. The study found that about 2% of the total MSW (Municipal Solid Waste) generated in Mumbai is openly burnt on the streets and 10% of the total MSW generated is burnt in landfills by humans or due to landfill fires.
In Mumbai, open burning of MSW is (Appendix 4, Table 11, Figure 16, Figure 17, Figure 18, Figure 19)
1.      the largest emitter of carbon monoxide (CO), particulate matter (PM), carcinogenic hydrocarbons (HC) and nitrous oxides (NOx), among activities that do not add to the economy of the city;
2.      the second largest emitter of hydrocarbons (HC);
3.      the second largest emitter of particulate matter (PM);
4.      the fourth largest emitter of carbon monoxide compared to all emissions sources in Mumbai; and
5.      the third largest emitter of CO, PM and HC combined together in comparison to all emission sources in the city.
Figure 19, Open burning contributes to 19% of Mumbai’s Air Pollution due to Carbon Monoxide, Hydrocarbons and Particulate Matter
Figure 16, Open burning is a Major Contributor to Carbon Monoxide Pollution in Mumbai  
Figure 17, Open burning is the second largest contributor of Hydrocarbons in Mumbai’s atmosphere 
Figure 18, Open burning of MSW is the Second Largest Source of Particulate Matter Emissions in Mumbai, greater than Road Transportation 
Figure 15, Open Burning of MSW Releases 22,000 tons per year of CO, HCs, PM, NOx, and SO2 into Mumbai’s Lower Atmosphere
Open burning contributes to 19% of air pollution due to CO, PM and HC in Mumbai (Figure 19). More than twice as much particulate matter is emitted by open burning of MSW as compared to emissions from road transportation in Mumbai. Also, a quarter of volatile hydrocarbons entering the atmosphere in Mumbai are a result of such activity.

MSW is combusted on the streets, exposing millions of urban Indians directly to these emissions every day. MSW burning in the landfill happens in areas with lesser population but the activity emits pollutants into the lower atmosphere, where the dispersion of pollutants is very low, increasing the risk of exposure to these harmful emissions.

The study identifies that open burning of MSW on streets and landfill sites need to be stopped immediately to increase air quality in Mumbai and points out the need for credible solutions to this problem. The study has calculated that 50% reduction in open burning and a 100% reduction in landfill fires are required to reduce PM pollution in Mumbai by 98%, along with many other initiatives.

2. Carcinogenic Dioxins/Furans Emissions

Open burning of MSW and landfill fires emit 10,000 grams of dioxins/furans into Mumbai’s lower atmosphere every year (5) (28) (Appendix 14).
Dioxins and Furans are known carcinogenic agents; they can cause cancer in case of long term exposure. The risk of exposure to dioxins/furans is considerably increased due to the fact that MSW is burnt on the streets and landfills which are at ground level, releasing them into directly into ambient surroundings. Also, open burning is a frequent occurrence in some communities, and Landfill fires, once started, go on for weeks at a stretch, increasing human exposure further. During health studies conducted in Kolkata, waste pickers who are regularly exposed to landfill fire emissions for longer periods were found to have a “Chromosome Break” incidence which was 12 times higher than the control population. Chromosome Break often leads to cancer. Municipality workers were also found to have higher incidence of Chromosome Break compared to control population, but less than that of waste pickers.
Health and environmental impacts of open burning are less known to the public and environmental organizations also often ignore open burning as a source of dioxins/furans emissions.


  1. Open burning and Landfill fires causes too much damage to our ecosystem. The figures in this list are very scary, and it's not hard to imagine how many citizens can die because of irresponsible companies. The government should start imposing rules that ban these sorts of practice.

    1. Sacrap I Agree with you .... Because this has caused too much damage to our ecosystem... I just included this website to my feed reader, excellent things. company analysis

    2. @Scrap Hoppers: Banning and imposing rules to improve waste management has turned out to be a bad idea in transitional countries which do not have the financial resources or human resources capacity to monitor these bans and rules. However, there is increasing evidence that providing incentives for managing wastes properly might cause behaviour change, which will in the long term achieve your goals.

      Before behaviour change happens (which might take some years/decades), it is the responsibility of the municipality to increase collection of waste to avoid open burning.

      To avoid landfill fires, facility operators should secure operational financing beforehand and need capacity building reg. their technical know-how.

      Hope this argument can initiate a discussion on this aspect.


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  3. We've been bombarded with a lot of news and info on the danger of toxic waste but still, we, people, continue to thoughtlessly use products that add more to our carbon footprint and shamelessly dump them like ordinary trash. Oh, well. http://www.riverkeeper.org/blog/fracking/new-york%E2%80%99s-fracking-waste-problem/

  4. It's time we realise this waste is actually a resource , if only we all care to segregate dry from wet waste , the former gets recycled and in process save precious raw material for plastic and paper industry while the wet can be composted or biomethanated . We all can begin from our own homes , I am composting wet home waste in a khamba from Daily Dump of Banglore and society's horticulture waste in baskets after crushing leaves with a lawn mower . The money we earn by selling our society's dry waste dry waste is pledged for streamlining waste collection and investing into community composting . We hope to link our society with a neighbouring village that will use our compost and sell its organic produce directly to our society . I believe we need not blame municipalities, no authority in the world can do anything worthwhile with your waste if you do not care to segregate.
    Regards Dr Mehta

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CH4 Methane
Carbon Dioxide
Government of India
INR Indian Rupee
JnNURM Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission
LFG Landfill Gas
Mechanical Biological Treatment
MSW Municipal Solid Waste
NEERI National Environmental Engineering Research Institute
Refuse Derived Fuel
SLF Sanitary Landfill
SWM Solid Waste Management
USD United States Dollar
WPs Waste Pickers
WTE Waste-to-Energy
WTERT Waste-to-Energy Research and Technology Council