Earth Science

Human Impacts on the Earth Environment

Hazardous Waste and Its Impacts

Study Tip
One drop of trichloroethylene can contaminate an Olympic swimming pool. Water with trichloroethylene can easily cause leukemia and other illnesses in children.

Hazardous Waste

  • Hazardous waste is waste that is dangerous to humans and/or the environment. Substances can be
  • Toxic: Causing harm or death.
  • Chemically active: Causing unwanted chemical reactions (e.g. explosions).
  • Corrosive: Destroying other things through chemical reactions.
  • Flammable: Easily catching fire, and may release dangerous smoke.
  • We use many chemicals in our daily lives that could be potentially hazardous waste if not disposed of properly.
Study Tip
One drop of trichloroethylene can contaminate an Olympic swimming pool. Water with trichloroethylene can easily cause leukemia and other illnesses in children.
Type of Hazardous Waste
Example
Why it is Hazardous
Chemicals from the automobile industry
Gasoline, used motor oil, battery acid, brake fluid
Toxic to human and other organism; often chemistry 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, woos 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.

Earth Science

Impacts of Hazardous Waste

  • After discovering dangerous levels of hazardous waste at the Love Canal, the government passed the Superfund Act in 1980. This law requires companies to clean up after their toxic waste. Love Canal became a Superfund site, where proper clean up of toxic waste was administered.
  • Hazardous waste can be invisible, until its effects are seen through cancer and birth defects among humans. As a result, people might not discover contamination until they see an irregularly large group of people getting cancer, called a cancer cluster.
  • The United States banned lead in gasoline and paint due to it easily damaging the brain and nervous system, especially in children.
  • Mercury is a toxic metal that can easily spread through volcanic eruptions, coal burning, and electronic waste.
Concept Check
  • What is hazardous waste? What are some common things that might become hazardous waste?
  • What is the Superfund Act of 1980?
  • What are some impacts of hazardous waste?