The respiratory health effects associated with particulate matter (PM₂․₅) exposure in children residing near a landfill site : a case of eThekwini Municipality.
Gumede, Phiwayinkosi Richmond.
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Currently, land-filling is the main waste disposal method utilized in South Africa. However little is known about the health risk factors among children living near the landfill sites. This is a first study that sought to interrogate and determine respiratory health symptoms and outcomes in children aged between 6 and 12 years who reside within a two-kilometre radius of the Bisasar Road landfill site, Durban, South Africa, the largest landfill site in Africa. Durban is situated in the eThekwini Municipality, along the east coast of South Africa in KwaZulu-Natal province. In South Africa, there are no regulations or guidelines in place to stipulate the buffer zone between a community and a landfill site. The study also aimed to determine if there is a correlation between those respiratory health outcomes and the close proximity to the landfill site. Community experiences regarding the landfill site and its health impacts were also interrogated. Various studies undertaken on the impact of waste disposal facilities have focused mainly on the landfill site gas emissions such as methane due to its climate impact and its potential for energy production. Particulate matter (PM₂․₅) exposure in children residing in the vicinity of the landfill site and the opinions of the adult residents, on the other hand, have neither been extensively investigated nor documented in developing countries, South Africa included. As the study investigated the respiratory health outcomes in children residing within a 2-km radius of Africa’s largest landfill site, it was vital to adopt materials, procedures and data collection methods that would not only provide an overall health reality of the area but enable the researcher to focus on children who are the future of South Africa; that are being groomed and nurtured in this environment. A mixture of the positivist and interpretivist paradigm had to be adopted in this case as were ‘scientific methods’ - where all is ordered, regular and can be objectively investigated, hypotheses tested and utilised. But the social context of information needs interrogating, and also how it is developed and construed by people and the way in which it is influenced by and influences that social setting. The study adopted both qualitative and quantitative methods to explore the impact the landfill site has on children and to ascertain residents’ perceptions of the landfill site. Questionnaires included predefined questions in a predetermined order were administered to participants purposively and randomly selected at the Clare Estate area near the Bisasar Road landfill site. Thus it became almost a case study as it not only tested hypotheses as in an experiment on health outcomes subsequent to the pollution reality of the area. It also gains insight into and generates knowledge from studying this particular instance and that knowledge may be relevant to other situations that will surely develop in this modern industrialised perennially waste-emitting world. Interviews that focussed more on depth than breadth were another data generation method utilised that occurred in three forms - structured, semi-structured and unstructured interviews, all aiming for an in-depth investigation explored at different levels. Furthermore, spirometry was conducted to establish the lung function patterns of randomly selected children, and PM₂․₅ concentration was measured at homes of those children. Based on data or evidence collected, charts and graphs were used to show patterns. Findings are presented and discussed. In order to foreground the respiratory health of children, this study presents significant findings in understanding the characteristics of the homes and the possible sources of the indoor air pollution. The investigation highlighted, inter alia, the fact that household pests, cockroaches in this case, and settling dust are the main causes of the poor indoor air quality. In homes where PM₂․₅ concentration was found to be high, most children reported respiratory health symptoms. The study also unearthed a high degree of residents’ discontent due to their close proximity to the landfill site. It was evidenced that the close proximity to the landfill site was affecting health negatively. It befitted the exploration to conclude that children, the future adults of this country, that reside in the proximity of air pollution emitting sources such as landfill sites have an increased risk of respiratory health conditions. These conditions include wheezing and asthma and many other related ones that may determine their lifespan due to exposure to unchecked outdoor air pollution sources. Not only should the issue be attended to as a matter of urgency but as one that affects the future of a generation and whose impact will be more significant on the nation than all pandemic ones whose effects are swift. Overall, this study significantly advances the understanding of the possible impact of landfill activities on children residing near them. Furthermore, the study concluded that the community of Clare Estate was not only dissatisfied with the location of this landfill site, as would be the case for many similar landfill sites, but also had no other residential option and only the relocation of the landfill site could be a proactive way forward. The findings of this study will not only inform future best practices in the location of such sites but also heighten awareness of the long-term negative effects that can shorten lifespan of a generation when health considerations are not juxtaposed to progress and industrialization.
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