Amsterdam, 11 October 2019 – The burning of plastic is a major health hazard worldwide, Susan Shaw argued during the Plastic Health Summit organized by the Plastic Soup Foundation on 3 October. Professor Shaw is the founder and director of the Shaw Institute and Professor of Environmental Health Sciences at New York State University. The Shaw Institute is one of the partners in the Plastic Health Coalition.
Furniture, mattresses, electronics, insulation material, it’s all made of plastic. Burning plastic releases toxic gases and substances, including carcinogens. Plastics are always chemically processed, for example with flame retardants. Fires are therefore much more toxic than in the past. Cancer is a dreaded occupational disease among firefighters. Carcinogenic substances are found in elevated concentrations in their blood after extinguishing. According to Shaw, at 63%, cancer is by far the leading cause of death in this profession. In 2014, Shaw was the lead author of a scientific publication on the probable link between cancer and firefighting.
Plastic waste is burnt uncontrollably in many places in the open air. Garbage dumps can even burn or smolder permanently, after being burnt, intentionally or unintentionally. Combustion releases carcinogenic substances, including dioxins. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has estimated that exposure to such fires increases the risk of cancer by 19%.
Susan Shaw also pointed out that all over the world forests are going up in flames due to increasing droughts and illegal fires. These fires are on the increase and the smog they release is polluting the air and posing health risks. Last year, the largest forest fire in the history of the United States also destroyed the town of Paradise, where 85 people died. In the weeks that followed, eight million people were exposed to a toxic cloud of smoke hanging over California.
Photo: Ted Christian