Toxic Waste MISS H APES 2006-2007 What is toxic waste? The term is often used interchangeably with “hazardous waste,” or discarded material that can pose a long-term risk to health or environment. Toxic waste is waste material, often in chemical form, that can cause death or injury to living creatures. It usually is the product of industry or commerce, but comes also from residential use, agriculture, the military, medical facilities, radioactive sources, and light industry, such as dry cleaning establishments. Examples: some of the most toxic chemicals on the planet--dioxins and furan and laced with heavy metals such as lead, cadmium, mercury and arsenic. Toxics can be released into air, water, or land. Legislation In 1976 the Toxic Substances Control Act required the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate potentially hazardous industrial chemicals, including halogenated fluorocarbons, dioxin, asbestos, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and vinyl chloride. Other federal legislation pertaining to hazardous wastes includes the Atomic Energy Act (1954), the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (1976), and the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, or Superfund Act (1986). Toxic waste treatment and control has proved to be expensive and time-consuming with more resources spent on court battles than on actual cleanup. International legislation The disposal of toxic wastes is also a topic of international concern. In 1989, some 50 countries signed a treaty aimed at regulating the international shipment of toxic wastes. 35 countries have ratified. In some cases such wastes are shipped to developing countries for cheap disposal without the informed consent of their governments. The often substandard shipping, storage, and treatment methods endanger human health and the health of the environment. Read the following: http://egj.lib.uidaho.edu/egj02/lewis01.html One Convention The Basel Convention is an international treaty that was designed to reduce the movements of hazardous waste between nations, and specifically to prevent transfer of hazardous waste from developed to less developed countries . It does not address the movement of radioactive waste. The Convention is also intended to minimize the amount and toxicity of wastes generated, to ensure their environmentally sound management as closely as possible to the source of generation, and to assist LDCs in environmentally sound management of the hazardous and other wastes they generate. The Convention was opened for signature on March 22, 1989, and entered into force on May 5, 1992. A list of parties to the Convention, and their ratification status, can be found on the Basel Secretariat's web page. Of the 166 parties to the Convention, Afghanistan, Haiti, and the United States have signed the Convention but have not yet ratified it. Love Canal Love Canal, section of Niagara Falls, N.Y., that formerly contained a canal that was used as chemical disposal site. In the 1940s and 50s the empty canal was used by a chemical and plastics company to dump nearly 20,000 tons of toxic waste; the waste was sealed in metal drums in a manner that has since been declared illegal. The canal was then filled in and the land given to the expanding city of Niagara Falls by the chemical company. Housing and an elementary school were built on the site. By the late 1970s several hazardous chemicals had leaked through their drums and risen to the surface. Investigations confirmed the existence of toxins in the soil and determined that they were responsible for the area's unusually high rates of birth defects, miscarriages, cancer illness, and chromosome damage. Families were evacuated from the area in 1978, and in 1980 the Love Canal area was declared a national emergency. Happy ending? The disaster led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency's “Superfund,” which makes responsible parties liable for the cleanup of environmental hazards. More than $20,000,000 in settlement damages was paid by the chemical company and the city of Niagara Falls to a group of former residents. The company also agreed in 1994 to pay New York state $98 million and in 1995 to pay the federal government $129 million toward the costs incurred during the cleanup of the area. The evacuated neighborhood was repopulated in the 1990s after the cleanup was completed. Earth-Altering Accidents Accidents happen, but when they destroy the delicate balance of nature or cause a large number of people to suffer, they become disasters. Here are some of the largest disasters that have been caused by human activity. Love Canal 1953, New York, U.S. Love Canal, a small town in upstate New York near Niagara Falls, was destroyed by waste from chemical plants. Beginning in 1947, chemical companies could legally dump their waste products into the canal. In the 1950s, families began to settle in the area without being told about the waste and the health problems it might cause. The area developed a foul smell, trees lost their bark, and leaves fell throughout the year. In the 1970s, scientists found that the drinking water contained excessive levels of 82 industrial chemicals, 7 of which were thought to cause cancer. The people of Love Canal had an unusually high rate of cancer and birth defects. Eventually, many of the houses had to be abandoned. By the 1990s, the town had been cleaned up enough for families to begin moving back to the area. Three Mile Island 1979, Pennsylvania, U.S. On March 28, 1979, the worst accident in U.S. nuclear-reactor history occurred at the Three Mile Island power station, near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. No one was killed, and very little radioactivity was released into the air when coolant (the fluid that keeps a machine cool) escaped from the reactor core due to a combination of mechanical failure and human error. More accidents Bhopal chemical leak December 1984, Bhopal, India An explosion in the Union Carbide chemical plant in Bhopal, India, released a deadly gas called methyl isocyanate, which is used to make pesticides. The gas formed a cloud that killed 2,500 people; another 50,000-100,000 people became ill. Trees and plants in the area became yellow and brittle. The explosion was caused by a mechanical failure that was not noticed in time to stop it. Chernobyl April 1986, Ukraine, former Soviet Union At 1:23 A.M. on Saturday, April 26, 1986, the reactor blew at the nuclear power plant in Chernobyl, ripping open the core, blowing the roof off the building, starting more than 30 fires, and allowing radioactive material to leak into the air. Some 31 people were killed and nearly 300 people were treated for radiation poisoning. Glaring violations of safety rules were at the bottom of this tragic event. Exxon Valdez oil spill March 1989, Alaska, U.S. On March 24, 1989, 11.2 million gallons of crude oil spilled into Prince William Sound from the tanker Exxon Valdez when its hull hit a reef and tore open. The spill, which cost billions of dollars to clean up and killed millions of birds, fish, and other wildlife, was caused by human error and could have been avoided.