Epidemiol Prev 2018; 42 (5-6): 69-75

Towards an assessment of the health impact of industrially contaminated sites: waste landfills in Europe

  • Gavin Shaddick1

  • Andrea Ranzi2

  • Matthew L. Thomas3

  • Roman Aguirre-Perez1

  • Maria Bekker-Nielsen Dunbar4

  • Federica Parmagnani2

  • Marco Martuzzi5

  1. Department of Mathematics, University of Exeter (UK)
  2. Environmental Health Reference Centre, Regional Agency for Prevention, Environment, and Energy of Emilia-Romagna, Modena (Italy)
  3. Department of Mathematical Sciences, University of Bath (UK)
  4. Emergency Response Department, Public Health England, Porton Down (UK)
  5. World Health Organization, European Centre for Environment and Health, Bonn (Germany)
Gavin Shaddick -


OBJECTIVES: this paper is based upon work from COST Action ICSHNet. To develop and apply recently proposed methods for assessing the health impact of pollution from contaminated sites and apply them to the case of landfills using available large European datasets.
standard methods for health impact assessment and burden of disease were applied using the available evidence on the health effects of living near a landfill. Geo-referenced data on landfills from the European Pollutant and Transfer Register (E-PRTR) were combined with population density data (European Environment Agency dataset) and disease frequency data from European health for all database (HfA); uncertainty was assessed via simulation methods.
Countries covered by the European Environment Agency’s E-PRTR registry on contaminated sites were considered (European Union Member States plus four additional European Countries) for the period 2007-2014.
Four outcomes, for which suggestive evidence is available, were included: • low birth weight; • congenital anomalies; • respiratory disease; • annoyance from odour. Firstly, they were analysed separately, in terms of excess number of cases, and then combined into disability-adjusted life years (DALYs).
1,544 landfill sites were considered. 29.3 million people (6% of the total population) live within 4 km from one or more of these sites. The number of yearly attributable cases associated with low birth weight, congenital anomalies, respiratory diseases, and annoyance from odour were estimated, respectively, at 1,239, 70, 33,039, and 1,582,624. Associated DALYs were 10,192, 958, 2,688, and 47,505, respectively; 61,325 in total.
estimates indicate a sizable health impact, largest for annoyance from odour, given the high frequency of the outcome and in spite of its lesser severity compared to the other ones. Application of the methodology is relatively straightforward, once the main assumption of causality is made. The present work offers a first approximation of the impact on health of waste landfills in Europe and can be further applied to other contaminated sites.

Keywords: health impact analysis, industrially contaminated sites, landfill, disability adjusted life years.


What is already known

  • In spite of increasingly ambitious goals on re-using and recycling, landfills and incinerators remain widely used to manage the final phase of waste disposal.
  • A number of studies investigated the possible health effects on populations living in proximity of landfills and incinerators, finding associations with a variety of health outcomes.
  • The importance of this issue is reflected by the inclusion of waste and contaminated sites among the priorities of the Declaration of the 6th Ministerial Conference on Environment and Health (Ostrava, Czech Republic, 2017).


What this paper adds

  • An estimate of the population residing in close proximity to landfills in the EU is proposed: almost 30 million people (approximately 6% of the total population) reside within 4 km of a waste landfill facility.
  • The burden of disease associated with living close to a landfill, measured through DALYs per year, was estimated, ranging from 47,505 for annoyance from odour to 958 for congenital anomalies.
  • A methodology for health impact assessment of environmental stressors due to the presence of landfills, allowing for sources of uncertainty, that could be used more broadly in the field of environmental health impact analyses and contaminated sites, is proposed.