Hazardous Waste

The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), enacted in 1976, defines hazardous waste as a liquid, solid, sludge, or containerized gas waste substance that due to its quantity, concentration, or chemical properties may cause significant threats to human health or the environment if managed improperly. U.S. legislation considers a waste hazardous if it is corrosive, flammable, unstable, or toxic. Sources of hazardous waste may include industry, research, medical, household, chemical producers, agriculture, and mining, as well as many others.

Most hazardous waste comes from industrial sources. The EPA specifies four different categories of hazardous waste that are subject to regulation: hazardous wastes from nonspecific sources involved in industrial processes such as spent halogenated solvents; hazardous wastes from specific industrial sources, such as untreated wastewater from the production of the herbicide 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4,-d); commercial chemical products that may be discarded (such as benzene) used in the manufacture of drugs, detergents, lubricants, dyes and pesticides; and wastes that are classified as toxic, such as vinyl chloride. Hazardous waste from many industrial processes include solvents such as methylene chloride, a probable carcinogen that is commonly used in paint removers. Trichloroethylene, a solvent that has been found in groundwater is monitored and regulated in drinking water in the United States. Drinking or breathing high levels of trichloroethylene can lead to damage of the liver, lung, and nervous system. In many industries the sludge remaining after treatment of wastewater accounts for much of the generated hazardous waste. Sludges and wastewater from electroplating operations commonly contain cadmium, copper, lead, and nickel. These heavy metals are found in the sediment of Lake Huron and have been associated with degradation of benthos and planktonic communities. Heavy metals can impact the health of humans and wildlife in a variety of ways: lead interferes with the mm ^

Denis Hayes. (┬ęDan Lamont/Corbis. Reproduced by permission.)

injection well a well into which fluids are pumped for purposes such as underground waste disposal, improving the recovery of crude oil, or solution mining bioremediation use of living organisms to clean up oil spills or remove other pollutants from soil, water, or waste-water; use of organisms such as non-harmful insects to remove agricultural pests or counteract diseases of trees, plants, and garden soil nervous system and can lead to learning disabilities in children and cadmium accumulates in humans and animals and can lead to kidney disfunction. Household products that contain hazardous ingredients are not regulated under RCRA but should be disposed of separately from municipal garbage following label instructions. Household hazardous waste (HHW) can include used motor oil, paint thinners and removers, wood preservers, batteries, fluorescent lights that contain mercury, and unused pesticides.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and state regulatory agencies collect information about the generation, management, and final disposal of hazardous wastes regulated under RCRA. This report gives detailed data on hazardous waste generation and waste management practices for treatment, storage, and disposal facilities.

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