Chemical Wastes

Scientists began to examine human impact on the planet as the world's population grew towards 6 billion. Chemists have become environmental sleuths. They have the huge task of understanding complex elemental interactions found in wastewater and smokestack gases. It's no surprise that cities have higher metal and acid levels in their wastes and air than rural areas. Scientists are working to piece together the total environmental interrelationship picture. The intercon-

nectedness of all life forms also affects the complexity of environmental waste and hazardous pollution.

Many elements today were discovered using cutting edge technology and equipment. Since the 1960s, many elements added to the Periodic Table (chart of all the known elements) have been manufactured and not found in nature. These atoms have unheard-of uses that many research and applications scientists are just beginning to understand.

Chemists working in the plastics industry came under heavy criticism when landfills got overloaded with disposable plastic containers and a softer compound called styrofoam. Environmentalists sounded the alarm for consumers to think before they bought products, especially fast food, that came in these containers.

Molecules that can be broken down into simpler elements by microorganisms are called biodegradable.

In order to meet the new concern, chemists doubled their interest in the biodegradability of plastic products. They found that by adding large complex carbohydrates (C6H10O5)n to plastics microorganisms were able to break plastics down.

Carbohydrates make up a large group of organic compounds containing carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen.

Chemical wastes are usually inorganic (without carbon). They include metals like mercury and lead, found to be extremely toxic in high levels to living systems. These refined materials are added to metals, paints, and other products. However, there are also naturally occurring inorganic hazardous compounds like mercury or uranium that are mined and released in large amounts.

There are several sources of hazardous chemical waste. They include batteries, kiln dust, construction debris, crude oil, natural gas, fossil fuel combustion, industry waste, pesticides, fertilizers, medical facilities, and used oil from vehicles and machinery.

Unrecognized early hazards came from a chemical family known as dioxins. Called the "most potent animal carcinogens" the EPA had ever evaluated in 1984, dioxins are one of the supreme "bad guy" pollutants. Composed of nearly 100 related organic compounds, the most well known and toxic being 2,3,7,8-

tetrachlorodibenzo-paradioxin (TCDD), dioxins are known to cause weight loss, birth defects, kidney and liver problems, cancer, and death. Agent orange, an herbicide used in the Vietnam War to clear wide areas of jungle foliage, contained dioxin. Veterans of that war suffered many short- and long-term ill effects from contact with the herbicide.


One of the big chemical waste problems is the possibility of soil integration and migration of hazardous wastes that humans have stored underground. The surrounding soil is contaminated when hazardous wastes in the soil fail to biode-grade in landfills; waste barrels and containers rust, break, and leak; or deep wells or pits develop cracks and fissures. These stored waste contaminants are vulnerable to release since no one can predict an earthquake in years to come. It's possible that no one would still be living or would have records that describe what might be stored beneath or within the soil years into the future.


As we learned in Chapter 8, dumped or buried wastes can leak into the soil and make their way to underground reservoirs. Once there, they contaminate the water as well as seep into surrounding rock. Water taken near or directly from these underground reservoirs is unsafe for use.

Survival Basics

Survival Basics

This is common knowledge that disaster is everywhere. Its in the streets, its inside your campuses, and it can even be found inside your home. The question is not whether we are safe because no one is really THAT secure anymore but whether we can do something to lessen the odds of ever becoming a victim.

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