A variety of human activities, including manufacturing, medical practice and transportation, generate hazardous wastes. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and state environmental agencies govern the disposal of hazardous waste. The improper management of hazardous waste has resulted in tragedies.
Types of Hazardous Waste
The EPA defines and regulates several types of hazardous waste. These include materials that have come into contact with certain chemical agents, certain pesticides and pharmaceutical products, and the byproducts of common industrial products, such as cleaning solvents, wastewater and sludge.
All employees who may come into contact with hazardous materials must be fully trained in proper handling of these materials and equipped with all necessary protective gear such as gloves, goggles and coveralls. Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations require these protections. Failure to comply may result in serious health issues for individuals as well as fines and possible civil suits against noncompliant businesses. The EPA estimates that hundreds of hazardous waste sites remain from the days before industries realized the dangers of unregulated disposal.
Improper handling of hazardous waste may result in serious health problems for those who consume contaminated water, air or food. Problems can include cancer, nerve damage and birth defects. Hazardous waste that makes its way into the water table may be nearly impossible to remedy. Cleanup and remediation costs to the responsible parties and the public may run into the millions and even billions of dollars.