Toxic Waste

Toxic Waste
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.
 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:
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.
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.