The impact of incinerators on human health and environment

Rev Environ Health. 2013;28(1):67-72. doi: 10.1515/reveh-2012-0035.


Of the total wastes generated by health-care organizations, 10%-25% are biomedical wastes, which are hazardous to humans and the environment and requires specific treatment and management. For decades, incineration was the method of choice for the treatment of such infectious wastes. Incinerator releases a wide variety of pollutants depending on the composition of the waste, which leads to health deterioration and environmental degradation. The significant pollutants emitted are particulate matter, metals, acid gases, oxides of nitrogen, and sulfur, aside from the release of innumerable substances of unknown toxicity. This process of waste incineration poses a significant threat to public health and the environment. The major impact on health is the higher incidence of cancer and respiratory symptoms; other potential effects are congenital abnormalities, hormonal defects, and increase in sex ratio. The effect on the environmental is in the form of global warming, acidification, photochemical ozone or smog formation, eutrophication, and human and animal toxicity. Thus, there is a need to skip to newer, widely accepted, economical, and environment-friendly technologies. The use of hydroclaves and plasma pyrolysis for the incineration of biomedical wastes leads to lesser environmental degradation, negligible health impacts, safe handling of treated wastes, lesser running and maintenance costs, more effective reduction of microorganisms, and safer disposal.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Abnormalities, Drug-Induced
  • Air Pollutants / toxicity*
  • Eutrophication
  • Global Warming
  • Health Status*
  • Humans
  • Incineration / instrumentation*
  • Photochemistry
  • Respiratory System / drug effects
  • Sex Ratio
  • Thyroid Hormones / blood
  • Waste Management


  • Air Pollutants
  • Thyroid Hormones