What should be done about hazardous waste sites?
Cleaning up toxic wastes has incredible costs in time and money. Laws now protect lands from contamination, but many sites were damaged before those laws were passed. No other organization is big enough, so it is the government's job to clean up a toxic site if the company that caused the damage no longer exists or cannot afford cleanup.
Preventing Hazardous Waste Pollution
Nations that have more industry produce more hazardous waste. Currently, the United States is the world’s largest producer of hazardous wastes, but China, which produces so many products for the developed world, may soon take over the number-one spot.
Countries with more industry produce more hazardous wastes than those with little industry. Problems with hazardous wastes and their disposal became obvious sooner in the developed world than in the developing world. As a result, many developed nations, including the United States, have laws to help control hazardous waste disposal and to clean toxic sites.
As mentioned in the "Impacts of Hazardous Waste" concept, the Superfund Act requires companies to clean up contaminated sites that are designated as Superfund sites (Figure below). If a responsible party cannot be identified, because the company has gone out of business or its culpability cannot be proven, the federal government pays for the cleanup out of a trust fund with money put aside by the petroleum and chemical industries. As a result of the Superfund Act, companies today are more careful about how they deal with hazardous substances.
Superfund sites are located all over the nation and many are waiting to be cleaned up.
The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act of 1976 requires that companies keep track of any hazardous materials they produce. These materials must be disposed of using government guidelines and records must be kept to show the government that the wastes were disposed of safely. Workers must be protected from the hazardous materials.
To some extent, individuals can control the production and disposal of hazardous wastes. We can choose to use materials that are not hazardous, such as using vinegar as a cleanser. At home, people can control the amount of pesticides that they use (or they can use organic methods of pest control). It is also necessary to dispose of hazardous materials properly by not pouring them over the land, down the drain or toilet, or into a sewer or trashcan.
- Government regulations, like the Superfund Act, hold companies accountable for the hazardous materials they produce.
- Developed nations have seen the consequences of hazardous waste and are more likely to have protections in place than developing countries.
- People can lessen the hazardous waste problem by using materials that are not hazardous or by disposing of wastes properly.
Use this resource to answer the questions that follow.
- Why can't hazardous wastes be thrown in the trash?
- What does proper disposal of hazardous waste prevent?
- Although this video is made for a specific location, how can you use the information to dispose of hazardous waste in your own region?
- What typical household wastes are hazardous?
- What should you do with the hazardous wastes?
- What should you do with leftover pharmaceuticals?
- How does the hazardous waste facility in Contra Costa County meet the motto reduce, reuse, recycle?
- How can you find a hazardous waste facility in your area? Does your facility take all toxic waste items? How about pharmaceuticals?
- How do the Superfund Act and other government regulations prevent lands from being contaminated?
- What can you do to prevent or lessen the generation of hazardous wastes?
- Why does the United States have so many Superfund sites compared with other nations?