Tests conducted in the US and Europe have found a disproportionate number of cancer cases in housing built where large amounts of industrial waste are buried

Maduka Nweke

Majority of Nigerians see every empty land as asset meant for development several others go as far as recreating a landfill and putting up home on top. These kinds of people fail to know that any land space that is not stick cannot hold building foundation. Because the land is not only porous but also filled with debris that are capable of decomposing some day and eroding the foundation, it is not for building but rather for agricultural cultivation.

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Most people also do not do soil or construction impact assessment and because they have some cash in the pocket, they feel they are capable of mitigating whatever challenges therefrom. At the long run, after purchase has been consummated, the buyer begins to notice certain things that injurious to his health. By this time, it becomes very hard to withdraw from the transactions. You will also need to do a lot of mitigating, lots of fumigating and all that to stave stench, and even dilute some explosives. It is very advisable to assess the environment upon which you want to build your house so that you don’t indulge in white elephant project at the long run.

Once the environmental impact study is complete, the permits are granted and the money has been raised, construction begins. First, access roads to the landfill site must be built if they do not already exist. These roads will be used by construction equipment, sanitation services and the general public. After roads have been built, then the landfill can be excavated. In the North Wake County Landfill, the landfill began 10 feet below the road surface. In Nigeria precisely in Lagos State, people preferably buy finished buildings without digging into the archives to get little history about the environment.

Once a building is seen to be esthetically pleasing to the eye, money mongers do not have any reservations only to acquire it. All the recovered landfills in Lagos State of Nigeria are already built 70 percent and only they rich buys into that. This is because the government that converted the environment have put up the kind of structure that will be mouth watering for the bourgeoisie to skip. It is therefore not a bad idea buying into a house that was built on a former dump but the buyer should take into consideration when looking at these types of houses. An expert in the built environment posits that it is not a bad idea, however, it all depends on what was dumped there, how well it was sealed, or “capped,” and how long ago it was a landfill site. Obviously, a developer has to do significant remediation to rework a dump site into residential land these days and have it declared safe by the city and/or the Environmental Protection Agency. But how much remediation is enough? That’s a matter of debate.

One should note that many parks, golf courses, malls and even college campuses have been built atop old landfills with little or no problems. In general, that’s because landfill sites built after the mid-1980s were designed, at least in theory, to prevent significant environmental soil contamination. Older dump sites are bigger risks. However, one should be more careful since one situation can not be judged as a case for other scenarios. Composition of one landfill cannot equal that of other landfills. For this reason, they will have different risk tables and so anyone building on that should bear that in mind. Environmental remediation of dumps seems to be an inexact science.

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There are former dump sites today where residents routinely notice recurring odors or see old tires and glass popping up out of the land, though the refuse was supposed to be walled off. Heavy rains have been known to bring out unpleasant odors at such sites. Sometimes, groundwater tests find levels of contaminants just below the unsafe threshold. Even sinkholes can appear for a variety of reasons, such as the land settling, or arsenic and other chemicals eating away at organic materials below the surface. Moreover, some tests and news investigations conducted in the U.S and Europe over the past 20 years have found a disproportionate number of cases of asthma and cancer in housing developments built over landfills, particularly where large amounts of chemically laden industrial waste were buried. One may be curious if there are monitoring wells on the residential land you are looking at, which will test for the presence of methane gas, ammonia or excess levels of carbon dioxide. You should find out.

Aside the odors, one may also not be aware if not investigated whether there were explosives that have not exploded but are waiting lubrication to explode. The moment the area is built, with consistent heat, and other radiation, one day it will just explode whether finished or undergoing. The issue is better managed when there is prior information as to the area and if anything happens, there will be less complications. This is because you obviously were notified that the place was built on a dump, there is no seller disclosure issue to deal with here. In that regards, of course, you will have to disclose that old dump site to a potential buyer when it is your turn to sell. And do you think you will be comfortable with that? By the way, any former contaminated dump site, including Superfund hazardous waste sites, must still meet local and state remediation standards for home purchasers to qualify for loans backed by the Federal Housing Administration.

In fact, the EPA recommends that prospective purchasers contact their EPA regional office to discuss site-related issues before trying to buy such a house and secure funding. The agency can issue a status letter for prospective buyers and their lenders that will detail the site’s status, cleanup actions and any ongoing liability issues.

A case in sight is the Olusosun landfill where the Lagos State Government tried the pilot scheme to see how it would be converting other landfills nation wide. The Olusosun landfill is a 100-acre dump in Lagos. It is the largest in Africa, and one of the largest in the world. The site receives up to 10,000 tons of rubbish each day. Waste from around 500 container ships is also delivered to the site, adding a substantial portion of electronic waste and other explosives into the place.

Some of this material are treated with chemicals to extract reusable products resulting in toxic fumes being released. Around 1,000 homes exist at the site in shanty towns, occupied by residents who work at the dump scavenging for scrap to sell. Olusosun landfill was once located on the outskirts of the populated area, however Lagos has, in recent years, undergone such massive expansion, that the site is now surrounded by commercial and residential area. Sorry to all you developers and redevelopers of landfills out there, but you must be advised to avoid buying homes on former dump sites unless they are certifiably sure all risks have been identified and mitigated permanently. Even then, well, it just takes one scare story, valid or not, to do significant property-value damage.

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