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Hazardous Waste

Hazardous waste materials are toxic, chemically active, corrosive or flammable.

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Hazardous Waste

Are these hazardous wastes safely stored?

Hazardous wastes must be stored, used and disposed of properly. Some wastes are extremely corrosive and can get through steel drums over time. How can we be sure that hazardous wastes are actually stored safely for the time necessary?

What Is Hazardous Waste?

Hazardous waste is any waste material that is dangerous to human health or that degrades the environment. Hazardous waste includes substances that are:

  1. Toxic: causes serious harm or death, or is poisonous.
  2. Chemically active: causes dangerous or unwanted chemical reactions, such as explosions.
  3. Corrosive: destroys other things by chemical reactions.
  4. Flammable: easily catches fire and may send dangerous smoke into the air.

All sorts of materials are hazardous wastes and there are many sources. Many people have substances that could become hazardous wastes in their homes. Several cleaning and gardening chemicals are hazardous if not used properly. These include chemicals like drain cleaners and pesticides that are toxic to humans and many other creatures. While these chemicals are fine if they are stored and used properly, if they are used or disposed of improperly, they may become hazardous wastes. Others sources of hazardous waste are shown in Table below.

Hazardous Waste
Type of Hazardous Waste Example Why it is Hazardous
Chemicals from the automobile industry Gasoline, used motor oil, battery acid, brake fluid Toxic to humans and other organisms; often chemically active; often flammable.
Batteries Car batteries, household batteries Contain toxic chemicals; are often corrosive.
Medical wastes Surgical gloves, wastes contaminated with body fluids such as blood, x-ray equipment Toxic to humans and other organisms; may be chemically active.
Paints Paints, paint thinners, paint strippers, wood stains Toxic; flammable.
Dry cleaning chemicals Many various chemicals Toxic; many cause cancer in humans.
Agricultural chemicals Pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers Toxic to humans; can harm other organism; pollute soils and water.


  • Hazardous waste is material that is toxic, chemically active, corrosive, or flammable.
  • Hazardous wastes are damaging to the environment or human health.
  • Hazardous materials are found in a variety of settings, including industry, agriculture, and people's homes.


  1. If pesticides are toxic, why do we spray them on food crops?
  2. Why are some medical wastes hazardous?
  3. What is hazardous waste? Is it always clear whether something is hazardous or not?

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