Hazardous or toxic waste can be generated from a variety of activities, including manufacturing, agriculture, water treatment systems, construction, laboratories, hospitals and other industries. Waste can be liquid, solid or sedimentary and contain chemicals, heavy metals, radiation, pathogens or other hazardous elements. Hazardous waste is generated even as a result of our normal daily life, such as batteries, used computer equipment and leftover paints or pesticides.
Toxic waste can linger in the ground, water and air and harm people, animals and plants. Some toxins, such as mercury and lead, persist in the environment for many years and accumulate over time. Animals and people who eat fish and meat run the risk of absorbing toxic substances along with them.
In the past, hazardous waste was largely unregulated, resulting in significant environmental pollution. Now, in most countries, there are regulations that require hazardous waste to be handled with extreme care and placed in specially designated facilities. Many places even have special days for the collection of hazardous household waste.
Hazardous waste is usually stored in a special storage in sealed containers in the ground. Less toxic wastes that have a low chance of spreading in space – such as soil containing lead – are sometimes left intact at their source and sealed with a layer of hard clay.
Dumping untreated hazardous waste on the ground or in city dumps to avoid paying fees is against the law and can result in hefty fines or even jail time.
Currently, there are many toxic waste dumps that continue to pose a threat to the environment and human health. Some landfills are remnants of a past where toxic waste was poorly regulated, others are the result of recent illegal dumping.
Regulation and treatment of toxic waste
The laws of the countries of the world regulate the handling of hazardous waste and the storage of hazardous waste. Nevertheless, social activists and environmentalists rightly point out that, unfortunately, the established rules are often not fully observed. In particular, many accuse governments and corporations of environmental racism when it comes to toxic waste. This is because a disproportionate number of toxic waste disposal sites tend to be in or near low-income neighborhoods or communities of color, in part because such communities often have fewer resources to counter such activities.
Hazardous waste treatment is a complex multi-stage process. It starts with visiting the site and checking if the area threatens human health or the environment. It is then further investigated and characterized depending on the type of contaminants identified and the estimated cost of cleanup, which can be in the tens of millions and take decades.
The cleanup work begins when the plan is developed. Environmental engineers use a variety of methods to remediate contaminated sites, including removal of barrels, tanks, or soil; installation of drainage systems; sowing beneficial plants or spreading bacteria to absorb or break down toxic materials. Once work is completed, monitoring and scheduled inspections are carried out to ensure that the area remains safe.
Unfortunately, we can only influence the situation on a large scale by calling on the government and corporations to consciously manage toxic waste. But a lot depends on each of us – we must properly dispose of toxic household waste in order to keep the territory of our country and the entire planet as clean and safe as possible.