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The Effects of Waste Disposal on Groundwater

author image Linda Tarr Kent
Linda Tarr Kent is a reporter and editor with more than 20 years experience at Gannett Company Inc., The McClatchy Company, Sound Publishing Inc., Mach Publishing, MomFit The Movement and other companies. Her area of expertise is health and fitness. She is a Bosu fitness and stand-up paddle surfing instructor. Kent holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from Washington State University.
The Effects of Waste Disposal on Groundwater
Think about what you toss ending up in a landfill.

Groundwater moves through soil and rocks, picking up pollution along the way. Water is an excellent solvent, so it can contain many dissolved chemicals. In fact, groundwater often has more dissolved substances in it—such as dissolved chemicals and gasses--than surface water does, advises the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).

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Your trash can affect groundwater quality, especially if you dispose of it improperly. The refuse in illegal roadside dumps, as well as your municipal landfill, may contain synthetic household products like plastics, oils, pesticides and solvents--all of which become pollutants. Cases of groundwater pollution due to landfills have been reported worldwide, and toxic leachates from landfills are among the major groundwater quality risks, according to the International Association of Hydrological Sciences.

Drinking Water Impact

Dissolved solids from sewage, landfills or improper dumps—including organic compounds thrown into trash--can affect groundwater. These can even lead to water being declared unsafe for consumption under the U.S. Safe Water Drinking Act. At high concentrations, dissolved solids also will shorten the life of your hot water heater. These days, landfills are designed to control leachate, which is water that collects contaminates as it filters through waste. It can affect groundwater quality for hundreds of years, advises Thomas H. Christensen, lead author for “Landfilling of Waste: Leachate.”

Electronic Garbage

Tossing electrical equipment, such as lamps, batteries and switches, into the trash can lead to mercury contamination in groundwater, according to USGS. Mercury causes nervous system disorders and kidney ailments. Copper can also leach into groundwater from the landfill. Copper is found in some electronics such as cell phone chargers, advises L.G. Electronics. USGS says that, in high doses, copper can cause intestinal and stomach distress, anemia, and liver and kidney damage. It also can stain your clothing and fixtures.


Also entering groundwater through improper waste disposal are plasticizers, dioxin and chlorinated solvents used as sealants, pesticides, disinfectants and wood preservatives. These can cause cancer and damage your reproductive and nervous systems. They also can lead to liver, kidney and stomach damage. Improper waste disposal also can result in beryllium contaminating groundwater, according to USGS. Beryllium is a possible carcinogen that can cause acute and chronic toxicity. It can lead to the damage of your lungs and bones, advises USGS.

Heavy Metals

Leachate from landfills as well as battery disposal can lead to the heavy metal cadmium entering the groundwater. Cadmium biochemically replaces zinc in your body and causes high blood pressure, destroys red blood cells and causes anemia. It also can lead to kidney and liver damage and destroy testicular tissue, advises USGS. Waste disposal can lead to antimony leaking into groundwater, according to USGS. Antimony is a semi-metal that’s used in flame retardants, such as for children’s clothing, according to the Mineral Information Institute. Lead-acid batteries can also contain this substance. It’s used as a pigment in paint and plastic manufacture, and it can come from manufacturing fireworks as well. In laboratory animals, antimony is shown to decrease longevity, according to USGS. It changes blood-glucose levels and cholesterol levels with long-term exposure at high levels.

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