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Wednesday, 1 March, 2000, 19:02 GMT
Recycling health warning
Kitchen
Microbes can be released into the kitchen
Recycling household waste could be bad for your health, scientists have claimed.

Rubbish bins containing organic leftovers such as banana skins, potato peelings and apple cores release far higher numbers of potentially harmful bacteria and moulds into the kitchen than bins containing mixed garbage, say Dutch researchers.

These include substances known to aggravate common respiratory ailments, such as asthma.

A team from Wageningen University analysed household dust from 99 Dutch households.


There were loads of complaints about the smell from organic bins, and some people with respiratory illnesses said their symptoms got worse

Dick Heederik, Wageningen University
New Scientist magazine reports that their research followed efforts by the Dutch government to encourage people to separate out their organic waste for composting.

Lead researcher Dick Heederik said: "There were loads of complaints about the smell from organic bins, and some people with respiratory illnesses said their symptoms got worse."

Dr Heederik said microorganisms thrive in the humid conditions created by rotting organic waste.

The team tested for cell fragments called endotoxins, which are released when bacteria die.

If people are exposed to these fragments in sufficiently high concentrations they can become breathless, cough and develop flu-like symptoms.

The researchers also screened for mould components, including beta-glucans-sugars found in the coatings of numerous fungi.

Beta-glucans have been shown to cause lung and throat inflammation.

In homes where organic bins regularly remained unemptied for a week or more, levels of the bacterial endotoxins were three times as high as in homes with unseparated waste.

Levels of the mould materials were up to eight times as high.

Dr Heederik said the solution was either to keep the bins outside, or to empty them more regularly.

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09 Jul 99 |  Health
Cure hope for dust mite asthma
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