Burden of Disease from Soil and Groundwater Contamination

Part of the Environmental Science and Technology Library book series (ENST, volume 24)


Soil and groundwater contamination due to waste disposal may pose an increasing public health threat in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) if measures are not taken to improve waste management practices and prevent exposure to wastes disposed of improperly in the past. The UAE currently has one of the highest rates of solid waste generation per capita of any country in the world. In addition, waste disposal in the UAE historically has been inadequately controlled, with wastes of a wide variety disposed of in open, unlined dump sites in the desert. Chemicals can leach from uncontrolled waste disposal sites and contaminate soil and the underlying groundwater. The soil in much of the UAE is silty and sandy with low cation exchange capacity. This soil type is highly permeable, and thus contaminants that leach from waste sites have the potential to migrate rapidly and contaminate large areas. At the time this project was carried out, no data were available on the nature and amounts of hazardous chemicals found in soil and groundwater in the UAE from waste disposal sites, but the types of chemicals present due to releases from waste disposal sites are likely to be similar to those found in groundwater contaminated from past waste disposal practices in other developed countries. These chemicals are associated with a range of effects, from cancer to neurological and reproductive effects to suppression of the immune system. Current information is not sufficient to assess the burden of disease due to soil and groundwater contamination from waste sites in the UAE. At present, this disease burden is likely to be small because of the small size of the potentially exposed population. However, given the plans to invest in developing the Western Region, it would be prudent for the UAE to begin to collect the information needed to assess risks from these sites to the current population and to future residents. Our primary recommendation is a two-part process that first would provide approximate estimates of the potential burden of disease from individual waste disposal sites and then develop detailed risk assessments for sites showing a significant health risk potential. The information needed for the first part of this process should be relatively easy to obtain, with the primary effort required for additional visual inspections of a selected number of waste sites. Once these basic site inspections and preliminary risk assessments are completed, the UAE government will have greatly improved estimates of which waste sites may be cause for concern, allowing it to focus on sites that have significant risk potential.


Soil and groundwater contamination Environmental burden of disease Relative risk Attributable fraction United Arab Emirates Dose-response assessment Uncontrolled waste disposal sites Screening-level risk assessment Quantitative risk assessment 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Gillings School of Global Public HealthUniversity of North Carolina–Chapel HillChapel HillUSA
  2. 2.Environment Agency–Abu DhabiAbu DhabiUnited Arab Emirates
  3. 3.Health Authority–Abu DhabiAbu DhabiUnited Arab Emirates

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