Why is it dangerous to burn garbage?

Igor Mazurin, Doctor of Science

Interview of Igor Mazurin, Doctor of Science, who has researching on dioxins for the past thirty years. He is now researching dioxin contamination of soil through bee honey.

Waste incineration is not a panacea. Fifty years ago, Russian scientists rejected this panacea. Thing is garbage is a multi-compound mixture. It consists of at least twenty compounds. They can be solid, liquid and gaseous. And they change with time: a different odor appears. Yesterday garbage had one odor, today another. Garbage is a dynamic mixture and when I start to burn it, there are hydrocarbons that have to burn. Hydrocarbons are different too. There are plastics and there is biological waste, rotten food. They don’t have methane molecules, not CH4, that can burn with oxygen. Those molecules need oxygen to break up to water and CO2. The bigger are the molecule, the longer they need to be exposed. The time of exposure is a key factor in incineration. In situation with waste molecule come all together and it turns out that some molecules burn completely, some are left unburned hence the smoke. And some molecules are left broken and when they enter a cold zone after the fire, they get back together again. They return to their initial condition, but not alone, they get companion. This is how dioxins are formed. Dioxins are formed from recombination. When I break up a hydrocarbon molecule, it forms a chain of benzene core and atoms of chlorine, bromine and iodine join in. Where do they come from? I pumped in air to burn garbage. In the air, there is always chlorine. It is produced by volcanoes – one to ten megatons per year. This mass rotates around the planet all the time. There’s no clean air in the atmosphere. It comes together with additives. On top of that, the mixture that I burn may contain chlorine. Fuel will provide bromine because our oil wells supply fuels with bromine. How much of dioxins do we need? We need ten to minus twelve degrees at the most. Dioxins are very unpleasant substances. They are accumulated by a human body and stick to fatty tissues. Their primary concentration when they start giving trouble is ten to minus twelve degrees, that is one cubic centimeter per one cubic hectare of air. One cubic centimeter per one cubic meter is ten to minus six degrees. How was it found out? In the 50s the Germans had a very common medical problem – chloracne. Thank God at that time there still were scientists who managed to solve that problem. They joined together two devices – chromatograph and mass-spectrometer. Each of these devices can detect a ten to minus six degree. If the amount is smaller, the devices fail. So, the scientists prepare the material on a chromatograph and then put it on mass-spectrometer. That’s how they saw a ten to minus twelve degree. Thus, they found out dioxins that cause health problems in humans.

Dioxins are called suprtoxins. One cubic centimeter per one cubic hectare is not a joke. It’s just unfathomable. Dioxins are worse than chemical warfare agents.

Several generations of mutations in Vietnam

In mid 50s the first conferences on dioxins took place. At first, no one believed that concentrations were so small. Only those believed it who discovered it. Vietnam was an eye-opener. What happened in Vietnam? Americans used Agent Orange, the defoliant, that contained dioxins. The concentrations were one to ten per per mille. One per per mille is one millionth. And that was enough to get three and a half million of mutation cases. And then everyone believed that dioxin concentration shouldn’t be higher than ten to minus twelve degrees. Dioxin concentration norms in Europe are not as tough as in America. In America, they have ten to minus fourteen degrees. Finally, people realized what ruined their health.

Is garbage a lucrative business?

Andrey Soloviov, entrepreneur

Andrey Soloviov, entrepreneur, had a lot of different professions, has been around, know a lot. Regarding the waste treatment problem, I can say that back in 1994 I and Mr. Parfionov, used-to-be head of Moscow’s Northwest administrative area, launched a recycling station. It was the first recycling station in Moscow. Our goal was to break free from the backward society that couldn’t even handle its own waste.

All garbage collected in the Northwest part of Moscow was brought to our station, where it was sorted through and then shredded. After that, shredded garbage was supposed to be used as recyclable materials for different production fields. Well, paper and metal was not a problem. Food waste was used to make compost. Speaking of plastic garbage, we planned to recycle it. And the rest of garbage was pressed and taken to landfills. Small garbage trucks arrived to our station and after all stages of sorting and recycling, one big garbage truck equipped with a press machine was loaded with non-recyclable garbage and took it to a landfill. Everything seemed to be working well. However, it turned out that all our procedures demanded human workforce. That was first thing. And second, we needed understanding where we would take recyclable garbage for further recycling and use. And it turned out that our cost of waste treatment was rather high and without subsidies from the government budget we couldn’t solve that problem. And the government didn’t want to solve that problem. I realized why, when I traveled out of Russia and visited small countries, I saw effective waste treatment. When I visited big countries, I saw the same mess as we have in Russia. I realized that Russia is a hostage of its own vast territories.

There will always be a ravine to dump garbage. It is more profitable than to recycle it. It turned out that heads of administrations of all towns adjacent to Moscow accepted garbage from Moscow using their landfills. They dumped garbage collection costs and our station’s cost was always higher, at least 30-40% higher than theirs. That’s why my recycling station eventually shut down. Another thing was recyclable materials were not in demand. Our industries, or rather what was left of them, used primary materials and that was enough. No one wanted recyclable materials. So, now that I hear talk of how garbage is a lucrative business, I find it funny. All theories can be proved right or wrong by practice. I went through waste treatment industry, all its stage, from collecting to selling recyclable materials, and I realized that in our country all this talk is nothing but just talk.

With money as the biggest value, the humanity will soon disappear. Money cannot be the only thing to aspire to. Now we’re facing the problem of survival. That’s why governments should support financially all waste treatment industries and procedures. The state is a unity that organizes and leads its people and it should not lead them into a grave.