What is Environmental Hazardous Waste?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Environmental hazardous waste is waste which is hazardous to the natural environment or to human health. Special precautions must be taken when handling such waste and disposing of it to reduce the environmental risks associated with it. A specialty firm may be required to take environmental hazardous waste, depending on the type of waste and regional laws.

Medical waste is managed by incinerating or sterilizing the materials to kill bacteria.
Medical waste is managed by incinerating or sterilizing the materials to kill bacteria.

This waste can be dangerous in a number of ways. It may be carcinogenic or mutagenic, corrosive, explosive, radioactive, toxic, flammable, or oxidating in nature. Exposure to the waste can carry a risk of injury, whether direct or indirect. For example, people can be injured by being caught in an explosion of flammable waste, or a fetus may develop a birth defect as a result of exposure to toxins in waste in a pregnant woman's community.

Environmental hazardous waste cannot just be dumped in a landfill. Many landfills lack the measures to contain the waste, which may mean that it can leach into the environment through air, water, or soil. In addition, if a landfill is not clearly marked as hazardous, future generations may inadvertently uncover toxins and other dangers. Since some environmental hazardous waste can last for a very long time, people do need to think about future generations who may encounter the waste unexpectedly.

One method for dealing with environmental hazardous waste is to contain it in facilities qualified to accept it. These can include specially outfitted landfills, or facilities where barrels of hazardous waste are accepted for storage. Old salt mines are one possible location for such a facility, since they are very stable. The facility can also be clearly marked so that people in the future understand that it contains hazards to health or the environment and it should be approached with care.

Incineration may also be a method which works for some kinds of waste. Medical waste, for example, poses a hazard to human health because it can contain infectious material, and it can be incinerated to neutralize the risk. However, incineration must be done with care to avoid pollution, and people must confirm that the waste is totally destroyed.

Many nations have agencies which oversee waste which poses an environmental threat. These agencies set and enforce laws pertaining to the disposal of such waste, and handle environmental cleanup in areas which have been contaminated by hazardous waste. Currently living generations have spent a great deal of time and money on cleaning up mistakes made by prior generations, and these agencies would like to avoid creating more problems for future generations to deal with.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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What are the main types of waste based on different classification criteria?

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