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(See endnotes 85, 97)

There are a large number of toxic chemicals being used and therefore a substantial amount of hazardous waste produced during chemical production, storage, use, and disposal. Chemical interactions and byproducts can be of greater concern at times than the original product.

The top 10 hazardous waste problems include failure to properly mark containers; open containers of hazardous materials; improper disposal of hazardous waste; improper storage in accumulation areas; keeping chemicals in storage too long; not inspecting or properly documenting the waste; improper labeling and dating of containers holding hazardous chemicals; lack of or an inadequate contingency plan for spills; inadequate maintenance of personnel training records; and management of used oil.

There are four major categories of hazardous waste:

  • 1. Ignitability—These wastes can create fires under certain conditions, may be spontaneously combustible, or have a flashpoint of less than 140°F.
  • 2. Corrosivity—These wastes which are acids or bases have a pH of either less than or equal to 2 or greater than or equal to 12.5. They can corrode metal containers including storage tanks, drums, and barrels.
  • 3. Reactivity—These wastes are unstable under normal conditions. They can cause explosions, toxic fumes, gases, or vapors when they are compressed or mixed with water.
  • 4. Toxicity—These wastes are harmful or can cause death when ingested, inhaled, or absorbed.

Universal wastes include batteries (See endnote 101), pesticides (see endnote 102), mercury- containing equipment, and lamp bulbs (See endnote 103). They are items that are typically generated by households and small businesses and thrown into the municipal solid waste for disposal. Many of these wastes can be recycled.

Improper disposal of the hazardous wastes allows the chemicals to seep from the containers and penetrate the ground, resulting in potential contamination of the earth and water. These chemicals may also become a source of air pollution.

It is estimated that there are approximately 82,000 chemicals (estimates vary with sources of data), which are used in our society today. Fewer than 200 chemicals are required to be tested under current law. Reports from the National Pollutant Release Inventory and the Toxics Release Inventory indicate that 0.5 million tons of cancer-causing chemicals, 0.5 million tons of developmental and reproductive damage-inducing chemicals, and 2 million tons of suspected reproductive and/or neurological toxicants were released into the environment and transferred to other locations, in the United States and Canada. The most recent report of North American pollution for 2005, issued by the Commission for Environmental Cooperation in 2009, reaffirms these massive amounts.

Hazardous wastes are not only produced by large industries and businesses but are also generated by a large number of small businesses. Hazardous wastes from small businesses may be harder to control because there are so many businesses in operation. These businesses include dry-cleaning, laundries, furniture manufacturers and refinishers, construction companies, laboratories, vehicle garages, printing and allied industries, equipment repair industries, pesticide user industries, vocational parts of schools, photo processing, leather manufacturing, etc.

Agricultural chemicals, so needed for the growth and protection of the food crop, can be deadly for human exposure. It is estimated that 355,000 people each year around the world die from agricultural chemicals, especially those living in Third World countries where the chemicals directly contaminate the air, water, and soil.

There are a variety of building materials that release toxic vapors such as insulation, plastics, sealants, paints and finishes, particle board, carpet, vinyl, furniture, and treated lumber. Recently, wallboard which came from China was heavily contaminated and created health problems in homes where it had been used.

Pharmaceuticals enter the environment through dumping old pharmaceuticals into toilets and flushing them down the drain; drugs and personal care products being washed down the sink or shower drain; medication residues and byproducts passing out of the body in urine and feces;

residues on food which has been washed at home, and the contaminated water goes down the drain; residues from food processing plants; residues from veterinarians clinics; residues from hospitals and nursing homes; residues from the production and use of illegal drugs; and residues from agribusiness.

The risk of a toxic chemical, during human exposure, causing an unwanted reaction, may vary with the individual based on route of entry, genetic differences, age, gender, pregnancy status, dietary or nutritional status, use of alcohol, smoking, and existing disease or health status. Gastrointestinal, respiratory, cardiac, renal, liver, and thyroid disorders can increase the toxicity of environmental chemicals since the body does not efficiently remove the toxicants from tissues and organs. Also, the action of the toxins in the body may be increased or decreased by the routes of entry, mechanisms of absorption and excretion, how quickly the toxic action begins, the biotransformation of the substance in the body, the metabolites produced, and the duration of the effect.

Typically, the fetus or child is exposed to more than one chemical at a time. There is a poor understanding of the synergistic effect of a mixture of chemicals on the human body.

The chemicals may add another complication if they have immunosuppressive properties. In addition, the concentration of the chemical, the length of exposure, the temperature during the exposure, the amount of moisture, the existence of other chemical contaminants as well as other environmental pressures contribute to the ultimate effect on the organs and tissues. Bioconcentration of the chemical may occur if it is in the food chain, therefore causing small amounts of the chemical which may be non-toxic to increase to substantial amounts of the chemical, which may now be toxic or hazardous. In 1990s, it was found that exceedingly low levels of environmental toxicants could be associated with lower intelligence, diminish school performance, and increase rates of behavioral problems, asthma, etc. Some of these chemicals have low-level toxicity for adults, but apparently in combination with ambient air pollutants such as nitrogen dioxide, acid vapor, and fine particulate matter can produce profound effects in children.

There is an ever-evolving concern about children being exposed to low-level pesticides. These pesticides which are commonly used in or around homes or on pets, or may be found as residues on fruits and vegetables consumed by the children, may interfere with immune, thyroid, or neurological and respiratory processes in children. The pesticides include organophosphates, organochlo- rines, and pyrethroids.

Note: See hazardous chemicals in the section above for further information on each of the sources, storage, use, and disposal of hazardous chemicals which impact many of the streams of hazardous waste that need appropriate disposal. These waste streams include industrial waste, basic chemicals waste, specialized chemicals waste, oil and gas waste, mining waste, radioactive waste, agricultural chemical waste, pharmaceutical waste, and consumer product waste. There will be some supplementary information below for a few of these waste streams. The topics of hazardous chemicals and hazardous wastes are very much inter-related but were kept separate to establish a continuity of thinking in each of the topic areas.

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