A hazardous waste refers to a material that possesses potential or substantial threat to the environment or public health. The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) is the body charged with the responsibility of managing hazardous waste in the United States. In this respect, RCRA is involved in the regulation of the treatment, storage, as well as proper disposal of hazardous waste (Rushton 184). The RCRA categorizes hazardous waste as either characteristic hazardous wastes or listed hazardous wastes.
Upon testing, characteristic hazardous wastes are known to exhibit such hazardous traits as reactivity, corrosivity, ignitability, and toxicity (Clark University para. 4). On the other hand, listed hazardous waste are those material defined by regulatory authorities as emanating from discarded chemical products or specific sources (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency para. 3). Owing to their reactive and toxic nature, it is important to ensure that hazardous wastes are handled and disposed of in the right manner.
Our homes can also be a source of hazardous wastes. For example, we might find bug spray cans, old batteries, and paint thinner in our garbage, and these wastes qualify as hazardous wastes. Other examples of hazardous wastes include waste oil, waste solvents, and waste asbestos. Households, the agricultural sector, and factories make use of hazardous materials extensively (Environment Canada para. 5). At the same time, there has been a rapid increase in the consumption and effect of hazardous materials, in recent years.
Factories have continued to use hazardous materials without taking into account the proper effective control measures and this has led to increased deaths from accidents and increased employee injuries. Employees who are exposed to hazardous waste are also more vulnerable to contracting chronic diseases.
When hazardous wastes are not disposed of properly, this not only endangers human health, but also pollutes the environment (Rushton 189). The main sources of hazardous wastes are domestic, industries, and hospitals. Under domestic hazardous wastes, we have insecticides, batteries, and herbicides. On the other hand, industrial hazardous wastes include heavy metal, solvent, sludge chemicals, and batteries, among others. Hospital hazardous wastes include pharmaceutical wastes, infectious wastes, and sharps.
The objective of the paper is to investigate the effects of hazardous wastes on human health and the environment shall also be explored. The paper will also attempt to assess the effects of the Gulf oil spills on human health and the ecosystem. Moreover, the issue of identifying hazardous waste and how to manage it shall also be examined. Finally, the paper will endeavor to highlight some of the solutions that can be used by households and the industry to reduce hazardous waste.
Causes of hazardous wastes
Hazardous wastes could be produced either on a small scale or a large scale, depending on the source. The main sources of hazardous wastes include households, the hospital settings, and industries. Regardless of the source, these wastes could be very dangerous to our health and the environment as well.
The main reason why there is an abundance of hazardous waste is because we have failed to realize that it is a very large problem that needs our attention. Since we can easily have wastes removed from our households or business premises and have it sent to a landfill, we rarely stop to ponder on the level of toxicity of such wastes, and whether it could have any effects on our health and environment (Indiana University Office of Environmental, Health, and Safety Management 7).
Most governments and industry have created crude landfills for purposes of stowing waste, with waste chemicals often being dumped into the neighboring water bodies. Most of the industrial chemicals in use today constitute a very dangerous type of waste. In the recent past, there has been a rapid increase in the amount of such dangerous chemicals, following the manufacturing of new products and an increase in the levels of industrialization.
With over 80,000 various types of chemicals being used across different industries in the world, it would be very expensive and difficult to store and dispose of such chemicals in a manner that will not in any way pose a danger to either the environment or human life. Although some of these chemicals pose no harm to humans and the environment, majority of them can potentially cause serious problems (Indiana University Office of Environmental, Health, and Safety Management 8).
Across the globe, vast amounts of hazardous waste are accumulated every year. Instead of ensuring that such waste is stored or cleaned up more carefully, if we can reduce the levels of producing such waste, we shall have avoid a major catastrophe from happening.
Effects of hazardous wastes on human health and the environment
There has to be effective control with regard to the generation, storage, as well as the treatment of hazardous wastes, if at all we wish to ensure proper environmental and health protection. Such measures also need to be taken into account when we are reusing, recycling, recovering, transporting, and disposing hazardous wastes. To achieve all this, there has to be active participation and cooperation of all the parties involved notably, the industry players and the government.
The increased production of hazardous waste is taking its toll on human health and the environment. Specifically, improper production, use, and disposal of hazardous waste results in the degradation of the environment (Harding and Greer 6). There is need therefore to increase information and knowledge regarding the economics of management and prevention of hazardous wastes, taking into account the how they relate to environmental and employment benefits.
This was, the government would be in a better position to plan and execute effective capital investment strategies via programmer meant to bring economic incentive not just to the community but to the country as well. Minimization still remains a priority in as far as the management of hazardous waste is concerned.
Minimization entails changing consumer patters and industrial processes by preventing pollution and by encouraging cleaner production strategies (Harding and Greer 7).The recovery and transformation of the various hazardous wastes into useful materials is a fundamental element of these strategies. The application of new technology, development, and modification of novel low-waste technologies therefore remains a key focal point for the minimization of hazardous wastes.
The daily production of hazardous wastes from commercial, industrial, and personal practices endangers both the ecosystem and public health. If this form of waste is not managed properly, it may result in contaminated soil, water, and air.
The U.S. Environmental protection Agency (USEPA) opines that for every four American, one of them lives very near to a hazardous waste deposit. More than 90 percent of such sites are a threat to not just the health of thee Americans, but also to the surrounding environment (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency para. 7).
Exposure to hazardous waste could lead to birth defects, reproductive disorders, neurological effects, chronic illness (for example, respiratory illnesses and cancer), and weakened immunity. An inventory carried out by the Toxic Substances Control Act noted that there are more than 72,000 substances. Although many of these agents are actively controlled and regulated, the treatment options, public health effects and exposure levels of majority of these chemicals are not fully understood (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency para. 7).
Both the USEPA and the National Response Center gets more than 15,000 oil spills and 5,000 chemical accidents every year (Reynolds para. 3). Even as the USEPA is committed to reducing such accidents by at least 80 percent nonetheless, we need to note that majority of these sites are already contaminated. It is important to note that the disposal of underground hazardous compounds endangers groundwater, and nearly half of the Americans rely on ground water as a source of drinking water.
Exposure of several predatory birds to dioxin during the 1950s and 1960s led to a dramatic reduction in their population. At low levels of exposure to DDT, the chemical was found to affect the calcium deposition of their eggshells (Fry 166). As a result, they became thin and fragile and their parents would often crush them in the nest.
When mining operations are not properly managed, they are likely to emit toxic effluents and this could pose a serious threat to the health of humans, not to mention that it would affect the wildlife seriously. In addition, wildlife and marine ecosystems have also suffered a lot of damage following oil spills due to accidents to huge ocean-going tankers.
Hazard wastes have certain safety related properties, including the tendency to explode, corrode, cause or burn chemical reactions. At the same time, there are numerous hazardous wastes associated with their safety effects, including death and injury from fire outbreaks, explosion, or chemical reactions. Also, hazardous wastes can also affect the physical environment and property mainly through damage to property and this can lead to explosion and fires (Vrijheid 102).
. The improper management of hazardous wastes can therefore cause accidents that emit hazardous substances to the surface and in case people inhale them, they are likely to suffer deleterious health effects. The emissions into the atmosphere of hazardous wastes can lead to various forms of adverse health effects such as damage to the skins, eyes, and breathing passages.
It could also have negative effects on the lungs, kidneys, and the nervous system. In addition, such an exposure has the potential to cause impairment to learning ability, neurological functions, and cardiovascular and pulmonary diseases (Vrijheid 103).
The most notable public health risks are those linked to an exposure to metals in airborne fine particulate matter and mercury in food. Coal fired power plants are known to emit most of these hazardous air pollutants. At the same time, these power plants have been noted to contribute significantly to the deposition of mercury in water and soil.
A study carried out in eastern Ohio near a coal mine revealed that nearly 70 percent of the mercury found in rainfall was attributed to coal combustion. In the same area, most of the power plants were located not more than 1 mile from where the rain samples were collected (Johnson 293). In this case, 42 percent of the mercury found in the rainfall was linked to these emissions.
The presence of mercury deposits in the air is a health hazard because in case it deposits on the earth surface as it often does, there is a likelihood of the substance penetrating into the waterways where it gets converted into methymercury upon its reaction with microorganisms. This is a very toxic form of mercury and can be quite injurious to the health of individual consuming the contaminated water.
Studies conducted by the EPA show that when humans are exposed to various forms of fine particulate matter, this could result in the development of cardiovascular diseases, leading to death (Johnson 293). There is a strong link between on the one hand, the development of cardiovascular and lung diseases and on the other hand, interaction with such heavy metals as selenium, nickel, chromium, and lead.
Emissions of hazardous wastes in the form of air pollutants can also have a negative impact on the environment. For example, it can result in the bioaccumulation of toxic metals, reduced visibility owing to haze, environmental acidification, contamination of lakes, oceans, and rivers, as well as the degradation of culturally important buildings and monuments (Kelly 11).
Effects of the Gulf oil spills on human health and the ecosystem
It is now nearly two years since the Gulf oil spill took place but still, we are yet to determine the full magnitude of the environmental, human heal and economic effects of this disaster. In spite of the growing literature that addresses the effects of oil spills on the environment and human health, responding to a majority of the questions raised by the public and clinicians about the Gulf oil spills and future related accidents is an uphill task (Goldstein, Osofsky and Lichtveld 1336).
There are four categories to which we can group potential health implications of oil spills. Those linked to worker safety, those with toxicological impacts on workers, those related to mental health effects as a result of economic and social disruptions, and those that affect the ecosystem.
Following the oil spill at the Gulf of Mexico, over 30 workers sustained serious injuries, while 11 of them died (Goldstein et al 1336). To gain an understanding into the health effects of the workers and community members at the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, we need to draw our attention to previous related disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina on the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
In all these cases, tens of thousands of community members and workers were put at risk by these events with majority of them having to live with long-term health consequences compared with the rest of the population.
With regard to the toxicological consequences of oil spills on human health, the public and clinicians are mainly concerned with the short-term chemical effects following an oil spill. These may include dermal and respiratory irritation, eye irritation, headaches, dizziness, and nauseas (McCoy and Salerno 6). In order to predict longer-term and shorter-term toxicological effects, there is need to have an in-depth understanding of the contaminants in question, exposure pathways, as well as the vulnerable groups.
Community members and response workers have been noted to present with mental health symptoms following an oil disaster. After the oil spill at the Gulf of Mexico, there was an increase in the number of calls made to domestic violence and mental health hotlines, following increased incidents of mental illness, domestic violence, and substance abuse (Zock and Rodriguez-Trigo et al. 243). This is a clear sign that oil spill impacts negatively on the mental health of the victims and the community members.
At the same time, an oil spill translates into negative consequences on the ecosystem. It is important to note that the Gulf of Mexico acts as a good source of seafood. As such, the Gulf oil spill became a national seafood-safety issue. This compelled the government agencies to start monitoring such seafood as shrimp, crabs, and fish, in addition to restricting the harvesting of seafood on some areas.
There is still a lot of pressure regarding drilling restrictions and seafood harvesting, and there is a chance that some individuals are still undertaking fishing in the region. Studies conducted after the Prestige and Erika oil spills indicates that the biomagnifications and bioaccumulation of crude-oil components (and more so PAHs), could take place in seafood (Zock and Rodriguez-Trigo et al. 246).
Although it is still not clear what role is played by dispersants and oil in the otherwise complex Gulf ecosystem, there is compelling evidence that these components can algal blooms, in addition to initiating the production of brevetoxin, a harmful toxin. Also, when marine risk gets coated with oil, this affects the absorption of arsenic, thereby helping to increase the levels of arsenic in seafood. If consumed, such seafood can have deleterious effects on the health of consumers.
Identifying hazardous wastes
The Toxicity Characteristics Leaching Procedure (TCLP) is a tool often used to determine if waste produced by individuals, industries, or hospitals is toxic. This tool has proved quite useful in the identification of hazardous wastes.
In addition, one can also be very effective in the identification of hazardous wastes. In addition, one can also determine hazardous wastes through what is known as generator knowledge. This is simply being aware that the waste produced by various processes in the industry, at the household level, or in hospitals is hazardous (Environmental Health & Safety Online para. 5).
Nonetheless, written documentation is normally required for the non-hazardous as well as the hazardous wastes, in case you decide to use generator knowledge in the identification of hazardous wastes. The EPA has also developed a table of the typical hazardous wastes as generated by various businesses. In this case, the table provides the type of business, the forms of wastes most likely to be generated by such a business, and the manner in which that waste is generated.
In addition, the table also provides waste codes for the different types of wastes. This table can be very useful in helping us to distinguish hazardous wastes from non-hazardous wastes (Environmental Health & Safety Online para. 5). The table can also be very useful when we want to develop a program for managing the hazardous waste.
Managing hazardous waste
One way of ensuring that we minimize hazardous waste as much as possible is stress on waste recycling and reduction. This way, it becomes easier to reduce the cost of having to treat a lot of waste. It is also important to take an inventory of all you chemicals. This way, you can know the ones that need replacement once they are finished and how best to dispose of them in a safe manner.
Whenever possible ensure that you replace hazardous materials with less hazardous ones (Rushton 186). We have many alternatives for some of the commonly used chemicals that could be hazardous, and most of them have proven to be less toxic. It is also important to ensure that non-hazardous wastes are not mixed with hazardous wastes.
In case we mix the two, there is the likelihood of non-hazardous wastes becoming hazardous themselves. Also, by mixing large quantities of non-hazardous waste with even the minutest volume of hazardous waste, this effectively increases the amount of hazardous waste generated. In the same way, we should ensure that low concentration waste is not mixed with high concentration waste (Rushton 187).
Prior to treating any waste, it is always important to first establish whether the material in question can be recycled or used, or if it is a hazardous waste. Once we have established that the material is indeed a waste, we must then evaluate the level of hazard, along with the most suitable disposal route to adopt.
Most household and small businesses have the tendency to let hazardous waste accumulate on-site for a given period of time, after which they will then have it shipped off for purposes of storage, treatment, and disposal off-site.
It is important to note that letting hazardous waste to accumulate on-site could pose danger to both the environment and human health. Compliance with the established basic waste management requirements is mandatory. This is important in order to avoid accidents from occurring. It also makes it easier to respond quickly in case of emergencies in keeping with state and federal laws.
The treatment of most hazardous wastes demands that they first comply with treatment standards before they can be land disposed. We have in place the Land Disposal restrictions (LDR) program that demands that such waste be treated first as a way of possible hazardous constituents to the established levels by the EPA (U.S Environmental Protection Agency para. 1). Alternatively, the LDR can give the mandate for the use of a specific technology in treating such waste.
We all called upon to ensure that the waste that we generate for purposes of treatment is in keeping with the established treatment standards by the LDR, prior to land disposal. In case a company decides to treat its own waste, it needs to comply with other requirements such as making the proper notifications to the right authorities, making use of waste analysis plans, and obtaining the right certifications.
Since we tend to encounter hazardous wastes almost every day, it is important that we form the habit of following the established guidelines regarding the identification and safe disposal of such wastes. For example, we need to label, package and store unwanted products as well as hazardous waste in line with the available procedures.
As individuals and industry continue to ignore the potential dangers of not minimizing and properly disposing of hazardous waste, levels of such wastes continues to pile up with potential deleterious effects on both the environment and human health. Consequently, many industries and individuals are no longer actively involved in the quest for preventing the accumulation of hazardous wastes in the first place, not to mention that they have little concern about reducing the potential negative effects of producing this form of waste.
Not many people stop to think that some of the materials that they are throwing out could end up in a landfill, and that its improper disposal could affects both humans and the environment negatively. Regardless of where individuals throw out such wastes, chances are high that it will end up on a landfill and ultimately, find its way into our bodies, in effect endangering our bodies.
Many organizations do not want to incur the costs ensuring that they do not let hazardous waste to accumulate. As a result, most of them end up letting such waste to accumulate in landfills on site, upon which they fill such sites with wastes. Alternatively, they could pay someone or an organization to have the waste removed.
Usually, these individuals and organizations end up transporting the hazardous wastes to areas that will accept it in exchange for money, without little regard about how such waste is eventually treated. It could become quite hard to minimize hazardous waste in the immediate future. This is because unlike the other problems that affect our environment, most people are not bothered at all about waste creation.
It is important therefore that the government agencies and other relevant authorities take charge of the situation before it is too late and compel people to reduce their rates of generating hazardous wastes. This can be done by imposing laws that restrict not only the consumption and use of materials with properties of hazardous wastes, but also to ensure that such waste is disposed of properly.
We seem to be privy to majority of the negative effects of hazardous wastes. Although we seem to give a lot of attention to other environmental threats at the expense of hazardous waste, nonetheless, we can still make use of a number of successful solutions in a bid to reduce the ramifications of this problem.
The government can play a very crucial role in helping to minimize hazardous waste by increasing regulations governing the disposal of such waste. To do so, the government can limit the volumes of wastes produced at the household or industrial level. As much as possible, households and industries should be encouraged to minimize the production of waste. A threshold should be established for the maximum amount of waste that can be produced and in case it is exceeded, a heavy fine should be imposed.
Incentives to produce less waste should also be provided to industries and households, such as issuing a certificate of recognition to those industries that reuse and recycle their waste. to minimize hazardous waste, industries can ensure that chemicals compounds meant for disposal has been broken down into a form that is less dangerous to human health and the environment. Alternatively, such wastes may be stored in such a manner as to ensure that the environment and humans are not exposed to it.
The solutions to minimizing hazardous waste should be embraced by individuals and industries alike. Both parties can make a decision that they will not purchase products that normally produce hazardous waste. Policymakers can also play a crucial role in helping to minimize hazardous wastes by passing the relevant laws.
Individuals and industries can also make a commitment to produce less waste. If at all we are to eliminate this problem, we need a concerted effort of the individuals, industries, policymakers, and the government. In addition, the existing technologies can be used to reduce hazardous waste even as we continue to develop more efficient processes.
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