Scotland bin strikes: Decontamination work may be needed in bin strike clear-up to guard against deadly bugs

Decontamination work may have to be carried out on the streets of Edinburgh and other places hit by bin strikes in a bid to protect citizens from potentially lethal bacteria in rotting rubbish and invasions of vermin attracted by food scraps.

The refuse problem is not just ugly and smelly, it could also cause illness and diseases, according to bosses at Public Health Scotland (PHS).

The organisation has warned a build-up of organic waste, which includes food scraps and animal and human excrement from nappies and dog-poo bags, “can become a risk to human health”.

It advised that councils may have to carry out ‘decontamination’ of areas where bins have spilled out into public areas.

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In a statement, PHS said: “Strike action involving local authority waste management staff has resulted in an accumulation of waste in public areas, within people’s homes and other premises.

“It is anticipated that further strikes may take place across Scotland, resulting in more widespread waste accumulation.

“The impact of waste on health is varied and may depend on numerous factors, including the nature of the waste and weather conditions that may accelerate decomposition of waste.”

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Decontamination work may have to be carried out during clean-up work when the strikes have ended, according to public health experts -- including measures such as jet-washing pavements, spraying with disinfectant or deploying pest control. Picture: Ilona Amos

According to research, rubbish bins are major breeding grounds for a whole host of bacteria, which cause debilitating stomach upsets.

These include the likes of salmonella and Legionella, which are relatively common, as well as more dangerous ‘superbugs’ like E.coli, Clostridium and Listeria.

These bacteria can cause gastroenteritis, but can also result in more severe infections – such as septicaemia and even meningitis.

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Fungal spores known to cause chronic lung and ear infections have also been found in litter. Candida Albicans, a bacteria found in the human gut, but which can survive outside the body, has also been found in bins.

Bins in Edinburgh are spilling out onto the streets after 12 days of strikes by council workers. Picture: Ilona Amos

It can lead to minor ailments such as thrush, but also the potentially fatal systemic candidosis.

Foxes, seagulls, rats and other vermin are also attracted to rubbish, potentially picking up and spreading diseases.

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Overflowing bins and growing mountains of trash have been attracting particular attention in Edinburgh, with industrial action coinciding with the city’s annual arts festival extravaganza.

Public Health Scotland has warned of health risks from rotting rubbish -- including food waste and human and animal excrement from nappies and dog poo. Picture: Ilona Amos

The 12-day period of industrial action in the capital is due to end on Tuesday, but strikes have also begun in other councils across Scotland.

Actions will be decided “on a case-by-case basis” in Edinburgh once rubbish collections get started and debris is cleared away.

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The city has said additional resources will be rolled out to assist with the clear-up.

Residents are being asked to put their bins out as normal on their scheduled collection day, when extra waste will be collected if it is bagged.

Decontamination could include work such as pressure-washing pavements, deploying pest control services or spraying areas with disinfectants.

PHS has set out a list of simple precautions people can take to reduce the possible health impacts of waste: always wash hands thoroughly when handling rubbish; organic or medical waste should be stored in containers if possible or double-bagged; and avoid contact with refuse in public areas.

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The agency has also warned the risk of fire may be heightened due to accumulation of waste.

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