In today’s world, almost every activity we do leaves behind some sort of waste. Taking the number of people in the world, which is over 7 billion, the waste created is immense. Then consider what the amount of hazardous waste we generated throw away, which in the United States is more than 7 billion tons every year. The scary thing about these numbers is that this hazardous waste has become a risk to human health.
Improper Hazardous Waste Disposal- Is it a Risk or a Hazard?
When people talk about how something affects humans or the environment, they use the words risk or hazard. These two terms are often used interchangeably and are thought to mean the same. When we talk about hazardous waste disposal, these two words mean entirely different things.
- Risk is when something negative happening is possible. When referring to a chemical substance, it means there is a risk, or possibility, of harm occurring when exposed to a particular substance.
- Hazard means there are built-in properties of a chemical substance which makes it capable of causing harm to both the environment and humans.
To understand how the improper disposal of hazardous wastes can affect our health, you need to know what the built-in hazards are and to what degree of exposure is acceptable. Every hazardous material carries a risk of potential harm being done, and the amount of damage it can cause depends on the amount of exposure you have with the content.
One chemical, for example, which is used in pharmaceuticals that are safe when used properly is hydrofluoric acid. If this chemical is disposed of improperly and someone were to accidentally come into contact with it, they would likely suffer third-degree burns. This hazardous waste becomes a high-risk situation when handled with bare hands and without the proper personal protection equipment.
You have to understand the risks of hazardous waste in order to manage and reduce it properly. A business is usually unable to reduce their amount of waste created, so it is vital they find the proper waste disposal service to manage its disposal. Once a chemical is no longer needed, you can lower the risk of exposure one would have from it by finding the best environmental waste disposal method. This disposal method would minimize the impact the waste would have on humans and the environment.
Hazardous Waste and How it Affects the Health of Humans
Which adverse health effect you suffer depends on how the hazardous chemical enters your body. There are some chemicals which your skin will absorb very quickly, while others will not absorb at all. What determines whether or not the compound will have an impact on your body depends on the toxicity of the chemical.
Some hazardous chemicals only have a small number of toxins, and others contain large volumes of exposure before a reaction is seen. There have been as many as 300 man-made chemicals found in the average human body. When hazardous chemicals enter the human body, it can cause severe reactions to adolescents, adults, the elderly, fetuses, and children.
The reaction varies according to the individual; for example, a young child or a fetus is more susceptible to severe reactions than an adult. The responses are different due to the developing organs in the young, which can be permanently damaged. Some of the health issues that can result from chemical hazardous waste, no matter what the age include:
- Kidney failure, reproductive impairment, or other physiological malfunctions
- Behavior abnormalities
- Birth defects
- Physical deformations
- Genetic mutations
Human Health Risks from Solid Waste Disposal
When waste is not managed correctly, such as solid wastes, liquids, and excreta from the community, they pose a serious hazard to human health. These wastes, when not disposed of properly, can lead to the spread of infectious diseases.
The group most at risk from improperly disposed of solid waste include pre-school aged children, waste workers, and those who work in toxic and infectious material production. Another group at risk are those living close to a waste dump, or those whose water supply has become contaminated from improperly disposed hazardous waste leakage from a landfill site.
Hazardous Waste Disposal and Its Effects on Humans
When exposed to hazardous waste, children are the most vulnerable. If they are exposed is can lead to the development of serious diseases, because when chemical waste is released into the environment, it leads to chemical poisoning.
Industrial and agricultural waste is also a serious health risk. Co-disposal of industrial hazardous waste with city waste can potentially expose residents to radioactive and chemical hazards. The uncollected solid wastes can obstruct runoffs, which results in the formation of stagnant water pools. These pools become breeding grounds for disease.
When wastewater is not properly disposed of and is instead dumped near a water source, it will contaminate groundwater source. If hazardous waste is dumped in lakes, seas, or rivers along with toxic substances, it will affect the animals and plants in the food chain, which ultimately affect human life.
Medical and hospital waste require specific attention when being disposed of as these materials can cause significant health hazards. Waste generated by pharmaceutical laboratories, hospitals, research centers, or healthcare clinics includes bandages, swabs, syringe needles, plasters, and many other infectious wastes need to be disposed of in properly labeled containers, or they create dangerous health risks to anyone who comes into contact with them when they are not wearing proper protection.
Diseases that can Develop from Improper Disposal of Hazardous Waste
There are certain chemicals or hazardous wastes that if disposed of untreated, can lead to disease or death. These chemicals include mercury, polychlorinated biphenyls, and cyanides. Studies have detected a large number of residents have developed cancer when exposed to these hazardous wastes. The studies were performed around the globe to show that the correlation between the waste and the cancer rates were correct.
Environmental, as well as health risks, are created from hazardous wastes when they are not disposed of properly. Some materials, such as mercury will accumulate in animal and human tissue, which compounds their effects and the dangers they create to your health.
The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) records more than 20 million cases of voluntary disclosure of pollution risks and have created more than 350 environmental criminal cases to try and stop the improper handling of hazardous wastes. Health problems will continue as long as the threats continue and until everyone follows the guidelines for proper hazardous waste disposal. Some of the diseases linked to improper hazardous waste disposal include:
- Respiratory conditions can be linked to exposure to hazardous waste. Emissions irritate the mucous membranes of your throat and mouth and create respiratory diseases such as asthma.
- Heart disease is at an elevated risk when living near and being exposed to hazardous waste. Congenital heart disease has been detected in babies who live within one mile of improperly disposed of hazardous waste sites.
- An effect of exposure to certain types of hazardous waste can be temporary. Xylene, an ingredient found in varnishes, solvents, and paints, is one of the most commonly used chemicals in the United States. This ingredient is not considered a carcinogen; however, when exposed to the compound, it can cause headaches and dizziness. Xylene can also cause stomach discomfort, and when exposed to high levels, it can induce unconsciousness and even death.
How Hazardous Wastes are Created and Their Effect on Your World
Regular garbage is created in households; exhaust gases come from all the buses, cars, and trucks we drive. Industries and manufacturing plants produce hazardous and solid waste. The waste created contains hazardous chemicals that when exposed to the environment and humans become dangerous.
Exposure happens when you contact a chemical either through another substance contaminated by the chemical or directly. The source is where the chemical originates, and they can enter your environment from landfills, incinerators, tanks, drums, or factories. When you become exposed to these hazards, which can come from the soil, water, or air, depending on how they were mishandled in the disposal process, it will impact both humans and animals.
The pathways or the manner in which you come into contact with these hazards can be through ingestion, skin contact, or inhalation. Inhalation is when you breathe in the substance, and it affects your lungs. Ingestion is when you take something by mouth that has become contaminated, and skin contact occurs when the hazard comes into direct contact with your skin.
Chemicals getting into or on your body can make you sick or become adverse health effects. The health effects are dependent on the exposure. Factors that play a part in whether or not you may suffer these adverse health effects include:
- Amount– the level a person is exposed to a chemical or the dose
- Duration– the amount of time a person is exposed to the hazard
- Frequency– how often a person is exposed to hazardous waste
- Type– what the chemical or hazardous waste is
Other factors that play a part in how high the risk is for adverse health effects from hazardous waste are how it enters your body. The best prevention to avoid all adverse health effects is properly disposing of hazardous wastes.
Using a professional environmental service for proper disposal of hazardous waste is your best chance, your community’s, and the environment for eliminating risks created from improper hazardous waste disposal. Properly taking care of hazardous and non-hazardous waste materials is essential to the earth’s health and all of us who live on it.