One year ago, NIU student Jeffrey Lamble found himself exploring the lives of open landfill scavengers in Central America.
An estimated 4,000 “waste pickers” in Guatemala City turn small profits by rifling through the 40 acres of trash for reusable items that they can pocket and sometimes sell. This includes food.
Unfortunately, their labors expose them to environmental health hazards with adverse effects. Emissions of carbon dioxide and methane gases harm their lungs. Landslides bury them. Garbage trucks run over them.
Neighbors within close proximity of the landfill who aren’t actively digging through the its waste – a number near 26,000 – are vulnerable to the air pollution and the high concentrations of lead and other poisons that seep into the municipal water system.
Lamble, who will present his research Friday, Aug. 24, during the annual Academic Convocation, first glimpsed this world in 2010.
“I was given the opportunity to travel down to Guatemala on a mission trip with Lutheran Campus Ministry, now Grace Place Campus Ministry. On our first day we went to the landfill where I learned about the population that works and lives off of the landfill,” Lamble says.
“After the trip, I came back and changed my major while deciding to research this area,” he says. “I wanted to create more awareness about the situation as well as come to a greater understanding of health risks.”
Since 2004, Academic Convocation has become the official academic welcome for all incoming students and an important transitional step as nearly 3,000 new students join the NIU community.
The program also features brief remarks from the president, provost, the Student Association president and others.
A university pledge, a pinning ceremony and renditions of the NIU Alma Mater and Huskie Fight Song accompanied by the NIU Marching Band are scheduled to be interspersed throughout the hour-long program.
More faculty members are needed for the procession; call (815) 753-1513 or email [email protected] for more information.
Lamble, a public health major within the College of Health and Human Sciences, obtained a $2,500 grant through NIU’s Undergraduate Special Opportunities in Artistry and Research (USOAR) program to fund his return.
His research interest is a critical one.
According to his research report, the “rapid population growth over the last century has led to a dramatic 49 percent increase in urbanization around the world” that “has created many problems (e.g. disease, poverty, etc.) within certain populations.”
Of the 54 scavengers Lamble interviewed last July, only 4 percent had private toilets in their homes. Those without plumbing “must use the landfill or pay for restroom services, as many public restrooms in Guatemala require monetary compensation.”
That striking lack of personal bathrooms is in direct contrast to the living conditions of the entire population, 81 percent of which has access to improved sanitation facilities.
Meanwhile, few can afford health care.
Seventy percent reported headaches within the previous two weeks. Two-thirds said they’d suffered a toothache or cavity during that period. Nearly 60 percent experienced coughing and stomach pain.
Among Lamble’s recommendations:
- Additional research should further quantify factors that pose threats to public health in the region.
- Further environmental health research should implement a methane reader that can provide considerable statistical data on this toxic gas that is present at the landfill.
- Health planning and promotion initiatives should focus on education this population on how to reduce these risks and how to prevent illnesses from occurring.
Lamble credits faculty mentor Tomoyuki Shibata for his scholarly interests in the Guatemala City Landfill. He took Shibata’s “Elements of Environmental Health” class last fall within the School of Nursing and Health Studies.
“Since then, I have taken multiple independent study courses with him involving this project, which culminated in the capstone and research poster,” he says.
“Many other occasions and organizations indirectly influenced this research in a personal development perspective,” he adds. “These include the Honors Program, Leaders and Scholars Program, Student Health Organization, Eta Sigma Gamma-Health Education Honor Society and Northern Light Student Ambassadors.”
Shibata says he believes that Lamble “will be one who make a difference after graduating from NIU.”
“Living in a landfill is one of the worst conditions in the world today. Living conditions in Guatemala landfill has never been documented up to date,” Shibata says. “Jeff’s research project will assist us in further understanding problems and issues in order to improve public health. Jeff is passionate about helping others locally and globally.”
Lamble is scheduled to graduate this December 2012 with a degree in public health, a minor in business administration and a certificate in social entrepreneurship.
He plans then to seek another internship, possibly the Peace Corps, while applying to master’s programs involving international work.
For more information on Academic Convocation 2012, call (815) 753-1513 or email [email protected].