The Effect of Improper Hazardous Waste Disposal on The Environment
April 22, 2019

Tons of hazardous waste materials are disposed of every day,  and unfortunately, many of them are not appropriately handled. This improper handling will come back to haunt us through the damage it causes to the environment where we live and to our health.

Waste from the small candy wrapper to the container of radioactive waste all leaves a damaging footprint on the ecosystem. In order to appreciate the proper handling of hazardous waste disposal services, you need to understand the effects on your environment it would cause without this proper management.

Understand What Defines Hazardous Waste and Its Dangers

There is a difference between hazardous waste and chemical waste. Chemical waste is not always considered dangerous. Even though it may not be a danger to humans, it can cause considerable damage to the environment, which then puts it in the category of hazardous waste.

A lot of what companies and private residents throw away in the U.S. meets the definition of hazardous waste because of its effect on the environment.

The EPA defines hazardous waste as any material that contains properties which makes it a danger to human health or the environment. This waste can come from any number of sources and in several forms including gases, sludges, liquids, and gas.

The EPA has developed a regulatory definition to identify specific hazardous substances. The process to identify these materials can be complicated, so the EPA encourages generators of waste to approach the identification process through a series of questions.

  • Is the material a solid waste? This step is the first in three to identify hazardous waste as the material must be solid to fall into the hazardous waste category.
  • The second step in the process requires the identification of whether or not the waste has been excluded from regulation by the EPA as a solid or as a hazardous waste.
  • The third step occurs once you’ve determined the waste meets the definition of a solid and is on the EPA list meeting the proper characteristics of hazardous waste.

If you are a generator of hazardous waste, it is crucial you understand what it is and how to identify it as you are the first link in the management of this waste. When you determine which of your materials are hazardous, you can then plan and oversee its disposal by choosing a reliable disposal service. Using a reputable disposal service is your first step in protecting the environment.

Without this protection from you in properly disposing of your hazardous waste there is a high risk of it creating an exposure pathway to humans, animals, plants, our waterways, and the air we breathe. There are three ways in which hazardous waste disposed of improperly can affect you and the earth you live on:

  • Skin contact happens when you come into direct contact with the dangerous waste, and it touches your skin
  • Ingestion can be a secondary exposure pathway after it has come into contact with your skin and you then place your hands near your mouth and transfer the material orally
  • Inhalation is the breathing or inhaling of harmful air or gases into the lungs

Difference Between Hazard Versus Risk

When talking about hazardous waste and its effects on the environment, the terms ‘risk’ and ‘hazard’ both come up. These terms are often intermixed; however, there is a difference between these when talking about chemicals.

A hazard is in reference to built-in properties of a chemical which make it possible for the material to cause harm to the environment or humans. A risk is when there is a possibility of the chemical causing harm under particular exposure conditions.

When looking at risks, you have to know what the built-in properties are and to what degree of exposure causes it to change from a ‘risk’ to a ‘hazard.’ Every hazardous material has the potential of causing harm especially when there is extended exposure. There may be a difference in the meaning of the word, but it is clear that where there are ‘risks,’ you are in danger of the exposure becoming a ‘hazard’ to you and your environment.

How to Identify Hazardous Waste

There is a universal standard that identifies hazardous waste. The category material is placed in depends on how much damage it can cause to the environment. The qualities include its toxicity, flammability, how easily it can destroy other materials, and whether or not it can explode or turn into poisonous gas.

A waste is hazardous if it is listed on one of four lists found under Title 40 of CFT (Code of Federal Regulations).  The F-list identifies materials from conventional industrial and manufacturing processes. The materials can come from different sectors of industry, so this list includes wastes from non-specific sources, and are divided into seven groups:

  • Metal finishing wastes and electroplating
  • Chlorinated hydrocarbons production
  • Petroleum refinery wastewater
  • Spent solvent wastes
  • Dioxin-bearing wastes
  • Wood preserving wastes
  • Multisource leachate

Hazardous Waste Impact on the Environment

There are enormous impacts on the environment caused by the mishandling of hazardous wastes. These impacts harm the soil, wildlife health, water, and air. There are numerous regulations in place to determine how you should dispose of hazardous waste, but unfortunately, not everyone follows these rules. When the laws are not followed, and disposal is not done correctly, there are both long and short term effects.

How the Environment and Humans Suffer Short-Term Effects

The main concern for the short-term effects of hazardous waste on your environment is in regards to water pollution. When chemicals are not correctly disposed of and end up in our waterways such as rivers, lakes, streams, and aquifers, it can create unsafe water for both agricultural purposes and drinking.

Exposure to contaminated water can happen when you drink the water, or if you swim or shower in polluted water, it can be accidentally ingested.

Plants can become unhealthy and die from polluted water as well as animals if they drink from unsafe waterways. Human health is also at risk when waterways become unsafe through consumption of sick plants and animals or from it making its way into our water systems.

Short-term exposure to certain chemical pollutants has been recorded to impair a human’s immune, reproductive, and endocrine systems. It has been responsible for causing lesions, darkening a person’s skin, and altering one’s liver functions. Other health risks of being exposed to hazardous chemical waste include triggering asthma, headaches, dizziness, eye-nose-throat irritation, and upper respiratory conditions.

Certain types of hazardous waste cause temporary health effects. Xylene is a widely used chemical in the U.S. and is an ingredient found in paints, varnishes, and solvents. This chemical is not considered carcinogen; however, exposure to this can cause dizziness and headaches. You may experience stomach pain when exposed to this chemical as well, and when exposed at high levels, it can lead to unconsciousness or death.

If your industry involves the use of these products or the use of products containing Xylene,  it is imperative your waste from these items be disposed of properly.

How the Environment and Humans Suffer Long-Term Effects

The long-term effects of hazardous waste are the most alarming. These effects include a mutation in animals, trash in your waterways and green spaces, destruction of natural resources, and diseases in humans. This form of pollution is already affecting the bee population. Bees are crucial to preserving the life-line of plant life. These tiny insects are dying faster than they can reproduce as a result of human pollution.

When long-term exposure to pollutants affects the native species inside of an ecosystem and results in them dying, your environment experiences a loss of diversity. This loss results in the area around you becoming more vulnerable due to the invasion of undesirable species. Hazardous waste not only affects your ecosystems; it plays a significant role in health risks for you.

A study was published in 2008 that found individuals merely living near a hazardous waste site showed an increased risk of respiratory diseases. It was able to link air pollution and respiratory conditions such as asthma. The emissions were responsible for irritating mucous membranes of the throat and mouth which resulted in these health risks.

Another study showed living near a hazardous waste site increased the risk of developing congenital heart disease in babies of pregnant women. Other health risks from pollutants include emission from autos increase the risk of heart attacks and stroke when it thickens the arteries, as fossil fuels contain toxins considered non-specific hazardous waste by the EPA.

How a hazardous waste enters your body determines the adverse effects it will have on your health. Certain chemicals are absorbed quickly through your skin, while others won’t enter your system through your skin. How toxic the substance is also plays a role in how it will affect your body.

When hazard wastes are not properly disposed of, there is a high chance of them circling back and affecting your health and the environment where you live. When there are hazard chemicals in your body, it can cause adverse reactions to fetuses, adults, the elderly, adolescents, and children. The responses each suffer may differ, but a young child and fetus are more susceptible to these dangers than an adult. This increased danger is due to their developing organs could be permanently damaged. Other health risks to all age groups include:

  • Cancer
  • Physical deformations
  • Behavior abnormalities
  • Genetic mutations
  • Physiological malfunctions such as kidney failure and reproductive impairment

How Hazardous Waste Effects Global Warming

Chemicals that are poured into the air every day from businesses and treatment plants cause pollution. These chemicals are responsible for destroying your ozone, which in turn warms the Earth. The warming of the Earth impacts your environment by destroying the fragile ecosystems.

Chemical pollutants known as greenhouse gases contribute to global warming. These gases released as a result of human activities include methane, carbon dioxide, fluorinated gases, nitrous oxide. Most of the methane and nitrous oxide comes from the agricultural industry. The industrial processes are responsible for releasing fluorinated gases, and carbon dioxide are released through the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation.

Hazardous Waste Disposal Services and Their Importance

The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) has outlined which chemicals are hazardous to both your health and to the environment. The outline they have created describes in length what occurs when hazardous waste is introduced to our environment. In the outline, you can also find information on which agencies regulate the rules regarding the disposal of these wastes, and who you should contact for more details.

When hazardous wastes are not properly disposed of, they have a long-term and short-term effect on a global, national, local, and personal level. This danger is why having hazardous waste disposal services is so important. Companies that specialize in the handling and disposing of dangerous waste make it their responsibility to either treat chemical waste or burn off chemical wastes to diminish the potential harm they could do to your environment.

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