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Hazardous Waste

Hazardous Waste

Author: Jensen Morgan

This lesson teaches students about hazardous waste issues.

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Source: Earth PD Toxic Waste PD Coal Plant CC

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Hi, I'm Jensen Morgan. We're going to talk about some great concepts in environmental science. Today's topic is hazardous waste. So let's get started. Today we're going to talk about hazardous waste, how it is managed, its impacts, efforts to reduce its impacts, and US law surrounding hazardous waste.

Hazardous waste is basically solid waste with a nature of one or more of the following. Toxicity, meaning it is harmful to human or ecological health if ingested or absorbed. Corrosivity, meaning it is acidic or basic enough to corrode metal. Reactivity, meaning it is unstable enough to cause explosions, create toxic fumes, gases or vapors when it's heated, compressed or combined with water and other substances. Or ignitability, meaning that it can catch on fire.

Hazardous wastes includes radioactive, medical, and industrial waste, as well as some paints and solvents. Examples of hazardous waste that can be found at home are paint you might use to touch up the bathroom, lawn chemicals used to keep it green, and even just batteries. Hazardous waste can be stored in a variety of locations, such as tanks, containment buildings, waste piles, containers, and holding ponds. It can be intentionally or accidentally released from these locations in many different ways. Such as, tanks for storing petroleum products both above and below ground can leak and/or catch on fire.

A gas station is a good example of this, because it is common for leakages from tanks to contaminate local drinking water supplies. Hazardous waste reservoirs, holding ponds, and pipelines can have leaks as well, which release chemicals into the environment, causing all sorts of problems. Should trains or trucks carrying hazardous waste crash, their contents can leak out. It is not uncommon for hazardous waste to be illegally dumped into water systems and sewer systems, ditches, and abandoned buildings so that individuals and companies don't have to pay for disposal.

Despite their impacts, agricultural chemicals used normally on fields are not considered hazardous waste by law. Let's talk about impacts. Hazardous waste has the potential to contaminate and pollute air, water and land resources. Without proper management and disposal, it can have negative effects on human and environmental health.

A coal fired plant like this one is a good example. Sludge is a hazardous waste created from normal processes of a coal plant, which can contain arsenic, mercury, chromium, and cadmium, which, if leaked from a containment pond, can contaminate water, damage human organs, and even cause cancer. Hazardous waste can become dangerous to humans, plants and animals if it is ingested, inhaled, or experienced through dermal exposure, meaning if it touches skin.

Impacts to human and ecological health are determined by three factors. Amount of waste released at first, as well as over time; the concentration of the waste's harmful components; and its toxicity. Efforts to reduce hazardous waste and its impacts include reducing the amount of waste at its source, recycling hazardous waste for other uses, monitoring waste's lifecycle from harvesting to disposal to prevent unwanted leakages or illegal disposal, treating the waste chemically, thermally, or biologically to render it less dangerous and mitigate impacts. And storing it in landfills specially built for hazardous waste containment.

The US government has developed a permitting system for hazardous waste landfills, which tracks the waste in its management and disposal facilities. The 1980 Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation & Liability Act, which is also known as Superfund, taxes certain chemicals and then uses funds to address environmental impacts of hazardous waste.

Finally, it is important to note that unless the following types of waste containing hazardous substances or byproducts, they are not considered hazardous waste themselves. Petroleum, which includes automotive, heating, cooking fuels, natural gas, and crude oil; animal waste; and septic waste. None of these three are, by themselves, considered hazardous waste by law.

Now let's have a recap. We talked about hazardous waste, how it can be intentionally or unintentionally released into the environment, the impacts it can have, ways those impacts can be addressed, and US law related to hazardous waste. Well, that's all for this tutorial. I look forward to next time. Bye.