(See endnotes 45, 48, 50, 56; Chapter 2, “Air Quality (Outdoor [Ambient] and Indoor)”; Chapter 3, “Built Environment—Healthy Homes and Healthy Communities”; Chapter 5, “Environmental Health Emergencies, Disasters, and Terrorism”; and Chapter 9, “Insect Control, Rodent Control, and Pesticides”)

The chemical industry was founded in most countries in small towns close to bodies of water especially rivers or the various coastlines. This gave them access to raw materials, a substantial amount of water needed for processing, cheap transportation, needed energy supplies, crude oil and gas, and necessary labor. The body of water also became the source of inexpensive waste disposal which contributed unusual levels of toxins to the air, water, and land. The mineral industry became more significant in the production of appropriate minerals for the production of chemicals, which also led to substantial contamination of air, land, and water.

Chemical industry products are potentially hazardous at each stage of manufacturing, storage, transportation, use, and disposal. The chemicals may be solids, liquids, or gases and be flammable, explosive, corrosive, or toxic. The major task of industry, regulatory agencies, academic institutions, communities, and others is to prevent hazardous materials from becoming hazardous waste and prevent or mitigate the effects of accidental release of the hazardous materials as well as the protection of workers, local communities, air, land, and water.

Depending on the quantity released for human and ecosystem exposure and the type of chemical, any accidental release or planned disposal may cause catastrophic results. The chance for hazardous chemical release is compounded by the very nature of the manufacturing of chemicals because it involves the conversion of organic and inorganic raw materials or intermediaries to produce wanted chemical substances and this takes a variety of different processes to achieve. In addition, there are many additional substances produced, some of which may be useful but still hazardous, and others which may simply constitute additional hazards.

Each time there is a disaster because of a chemical accident of some form which may affect large numbers of people causing illness or death, the question is why we allow such hazardous materials to be produced and transported through our country. The answer is quite simple. The chemical industry in this country manufactures over 70,000 different products which are absolutely necessary for the economic well-being and security of the United States and the world as well as to protect the health of the population. The chemical industry has nearly 1 million employees and generates over $700 billion each year. Although the chemical industry is very important to our modern lifestyle and economy, the production, storage, transportation, and use of these hazardous chemicals present a serious risk to the health and safety of people as well as animals, and potential destruction of various ecosystems in the environment.

Hazardous materials are chemicals used in agriculture, manufacturing, consumer goods, industries, weapons, medicine, and research. The chemicals fit into five major categories. They are basic chemicals, specialty chemicals, agricultural chemicals, pharmaceuticals, and consumer products. The raw materials used to make the chemicals are in part fossil fuels, metals, minerals, etc. Water used in the process becomes readily contaminated. The chemicals and products which are produced may include explosives, flammable materials, poisons, radioactive materials, carcinogens, teratogens, and endocrine disruptors. The raw materials, finished products, byproducts, and waste materials may cause serious injuries, long-lasting health effects, and death as well as damage to property. The chemicals may be found in various industries, households, schools, hospitals and other institutions, waste storage areas, and waste disposal areas, or released into the air, water, and land. In previous years, there has been substantial improper disposal of hazardous materials, which has led to a series of extremely dangerous sites where people became exposed to the chemicals and the interactions of the chemicals. Schools and other public buildings have been built on some of these sites.

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