February 4, 2023

Hazardous waste is a byproduct that can cause severe damage when not disposed of safely and securely. These hazardous wastes and substances may irritate the skin or eye, or in worse cases may make it difficult for a person to breathe. 

It is a common belief that a small amount of hazardous waste that an individual produces makes a minimal impact on the overall environment. But this is not the case, these small amounts of improper disposals when not taken care of for long periods can result in severe health hazards.

This content piece will walk the readers through hazardous waste and its impact on human health, and the environment.

General Hazardous Waste Statistics

Nearly every activity leaves behind some form of waste in our surroundings. There are approximately 7.4 billion people in the whole world which adds up to waste every year. This number becomes frightening when looking at the number of hazardous wastes generated and disposed of in the United States alone.

It is estimated that between the years 2000 to 2019, the global production of man-made hazardous chemicals and substances resulting in hazardous waste increased from 1 million to 400 million a year causing substantial harm to the health, safety, and our overall environment.

This makes it an issue of major concern, that needs immediate attention of responsible persons to create and maintain a clean and safe environment for all.

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What is Hazardous Waste?

Hazardous waste is any type of waste that has the potential to cause substantial harm and threats to people’s health and their environment due to its toxic, flammable, and infectious nature. 

Some common examples of hazardous waste include:

  • Explosives
  • Gasses
  • Flammable liquids, solids & substances
  • Toxic & infectious substances
  • Radioactive substances
  • Oxidizing substances 

Where Does this Hazardous Waste Come From?

The hazardous waste is primarily produced by the following sectors/industries:

  • Chemical manufacturing industry
  • Manufacturing of petroleum or coal products
  • Waste treatment & disposal
  • Agricultural chemicals manufacturing (such as fertilizers & pesticides)
  • Iron & steel manufacturing 

The list does not stop here, the hazardous waste can also be generated from everyday use products. Such as cleaning products, pharmaceuticals, electronics, or beauty/cosmetic products.

Effects of Hazardous Waste on Human Health

Exposure to hazardous waste can have a prominent effect on human health. The most vulnerable people in our society are most at risk when it comes to these pollutants. 

The impact of hazardous waste varies depending on the nature and type of the waste products and how they get into the body. These pollutants can easily get absorbed into the body.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) explains some ways, in which hazardous waste can have both short-term and long-term consequences on human health:

  • Skin & eyes irritation
  • Chemical burns
  • Difficulty in breathing
  • Persistent headaches & nausea
  • Cancer
  • Behavioral abnormalities & change

Effects of Hazardous Waste on the Environment 

Along with the risks posed to the human body, hazardous waste can have severe health impacts on the environment as well.

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Below are some of these:

One of the biggest harm hazardous wastes have on the environment is the impact on the water supply. This issue can result in water pollution causing severe health issues to the aquatic plants and animals.

When chemicals or dangerous substances make their way to rivers or seas, they make the water unsafe to drink and use. It also affects the agricultural processes. Animals and plants consuming this water can die. Ultimately it has the potential to destroy the marine habitat.

Some hazardous wastes are flammable and can ignite or explode. It could result in severe health hazards to the people residing within a building or can destroy the surroundings completely that took years to build and establish.

  • Short & Long-term Effects

It is worth noting that hazardous waste and substances can have both short and long-term effects on human health as well as the environment. These substances can create toxic effects with just a signal release. Other substances can produce significant harm over time or due to prolonged exposure. 

These toxins remaining for long periods in the environment can produce danger to wildlife as well as the people, resulting in long-term health effects.  

What is the Solution to the Problem?

Appropriately and safely disposing of hazardous waste is the ultimate solution to the problem. This is not as easy as it might sound, because even with the best intentions companies and organizations can make mistakes that can result in real damage. 

Each hazardous waste is of a different type and so needs a different approach to treat and dispose of. It is advisable to take expert insights or assistance for that matter. Employers can also ensure that their staff members have adequate waste management training to identify, control, and minimize the issue.

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Bottom Line 

There are numerous health hazards to improper handling and management of hazardous waste. The issue if not taken into consideration can result in damage to the lives of thousands of people and their surroundings.

This blog post has covered some of the major health effects of these substances both on humans and their environments.