Nine Dangerous Chemicals in Landfills

Where the trash from your company goes after the waste hauler picks it up may not seem be your biggest concern right now.  But, maybe it should be.  If your company generated it, you may still be liable for it. Here’s a brief rundown of dangerous, toxic chemicals typically found within landfills.

Arsenic-  One of the nastiest of all, linked to cancer and respiratory issues. According to one report it was found in 7% of monitored landfill sites in New York.

Cadmium- It’s presence in landfills is due largely to iron and steel plants, smelters, battery production, and electroplating waste. Once ingested into the body via food, water, or breathing, cadmium collects in the liver and kidneys and can cause renal dysfunction.

Chromium– A hard metal that often gets dumped in landfills in the form of solid waste and slag created during chromate manufacturing processes. The EPA has found chromium contamination in over 60 National Priorities List sites in Michigan alone. Dr. Michael McCabe identifies chromium 6 as a major carcinogen that can lead to lung cancer and has mutagenic effects, causing chromosomal aberrations in the lymphocytes (a subtype of white blood cells found in our immune systems).

Lead- Well known for causing central nervous system dysfunctions, including mental retardation. It ends up in landfills thanks to the discarding of electronics, which contain significant amounts of lead, according to Valerie J. Brown. The World Heath Organization says there is NO known safe level of lead exposure.

Mercury– S.E. Lindberg finds that mercury from dental office waste, batteries, lights, and thermometers is dumped into landfills and gets leaked into the air via delivery and crushing of mercury waste products and landfill gas vents.  Mercury is harmful to the cardiovascular system and the kidneys.  It has also been linked to cancer.  Elemental mercury effects include tremors, neuromuscular changes and insomnia.

Nickel– Many people are highly allergic to nickel. Telephones contain toxic chemicals, including nickel; and the disposal of cellular phone waste is potentially creating more nickel damage in the environment surrounding landfills.

Chloroform- ”Because of its low soil adsorption and slight, but significant, water solubility, chloroform will readily leach from soil into ground water. ….Levels in drinking water derived from ground water contaminated with leachate from landfills…can sometime be much higher.” (

Benzene- Sometimes used as an industrial solvent to remove paint or grease, is highly toxic and carcinogenic. It is also known to cause genetic mutations, skin problems, and negative changes within the immune system.

Ethylbenzene- A highly flammable organic compound that is a colorless liquid. It smells like gasoline. When ingested into the human body, it can damage respiration, the central nervous system, kidneys, and the liver. It has been know to leak into drinking water supplies located down-gradient of unregulated landfills throughout the United States, and was found contaminating a total of 15 groundwater wells in Wisconsin.

Image Credit: © Arash Yaghmaeian – ‘Landfill Ballerina’, HIPA Grand Prize Winner