Humans have undergone a lot of industrial and technological progress over the last couple of decades. However, with development, we have amped-up the amount of waste which we produce. Almost everything we do in our day to day lives leads to the generation of waste. Because of this, there has been an astonishing increase in the amount of chemical waste being produced over the years. Most of the chemical waste is generated from large factories. Similarly, households too are prone to generating significant chemical wastes.
Hazardous waste is something which not only poses a threat to the environment but also to humans especially if not handled properly. Proper treatment and handling of chemical waste is of the utmost importance as it can directly affect human health and in a worst-case scenario can cause widespread death to animals and people alike.
Effect of Chemical Waste on Human Health
We come in contact with chemicals in our day to day life. While most of them are safe others can be a health hazard. Exposure to hazardous chemicals can affect your overall health.
Chemical wastes can include domestic hazardous waste ranging from common household chemicals which have expired, old batteries, old paints, paint removers, cigarette smoke etc. overexposure to the household hazardous waste can lead to chemical poisoning leading to a slew of health problems.
Runoff from farms and industries can be hazardous as well. Untreated waste being dumped into rivers and lakes not only contaminates the water body but also groundwater sources nearby. Once this toxic waste enters the food chain it can make it’s way back to the human body as either contaminated water or food.
Medical waste generated from hospitals, pathology labs, research centres, etc needs to be handled properly. Mismanagement of medical waste including discarded drugs, syringes, and bandages can be hazardous to human health. Medical waste can carry infectious agents such as harmful bacteria and viruses amongst others which is harmful for human health.
Handling of chemical waste in waste treatment centres, sewage treatment plants and landfills is also important and can be a health hazard for people living closeby. Chemicals from old batteries and e-waste can leak into the groundwater if mismanaged in landfills. Also, such centres can attract insects and rodents which can be a vector for infectious diseases.
Effect of Chemical Waste on the Environment
Hazardous chemicals being dumped into the air, water and soil without proper treatment can have detrimental effects on the environment.
Waste from industries and farms being dumped into rivers and lakes have negative impacts on aquatic life and seabirds. Direct exposure of fishes to concentrated hazardous chemicals can have serious health implications for the fish or can even cause widespread death in extreme cases. Large-scale oil spills though infrequent can cause extreme localized ecological harm. Agricultural runoff containing fertilizers, pesticides and insecticides has the potential to cause eutrophication. Due to eutrophication the water body becomes covered with algae and other plant life as a result of which these plants consume the dissolved oxygen present in water. Depletion of dissolved oxygen affects all the other life forms present in the water body and can lead to the death of many fishes leading to an enormous decrease in biodiversity.
Apart from the very tangible short-term effects of chemical waste it also poses a lot of unforeseen long-term effects. There has been growing evidence that the presence of certain chemicals in water can alter the reproductive behaviour of fishes. Apart from that, there have been signs of cancer, mutations and the presence of diseases in animals all of which might be linked to chemical waste. There is also a concern about the decreasing population of bees and other pollinators in the wild due to human activity. Pollinators like bees are crucial for the life cycle of many plants including the ones which we eat as food so preserving their population is of the utmost importance.
Limiting the amount of chemical waste we produce and properly treating hazardous chemical waste is an important endeavour because it not only affects the environment but also humans.
Proper Disposal of Chemical Waste
There are already a lot of regulations regarding the disposal, storage, segregation and handling of hazardous chemical waste. These regulations have to be properly enforced by the governing bodies for safe disposal of chemical waste.
Hazardous waste can be of different types. These include ignitable, flammable, corrosive, reactive and toxic wastes amongst others. It’s important to identify and label products appropriately so that they can be disposed of properly.
Once the waste is collected at waste treatment facilities it should be segregated according to its properties. The University of California, Santa Barbara segregates waste into the following categories –
- Halogenated organics
- Non-halogenated organics
- Acids with pH less than equal to 2
- Alkalis with pH greater than equal to 12.5
- Alkali metals
- Heavy metals and salts
- Strong oxidizers
- Unstable chemicals
After proper segregation, the wastes need to be treated depending on their nature before proper disposal.
Humans are currently producing an enormous amount of waste. Some of the chemical wastes which we produce are hazardous in nature. These wastes not only damage the surroundings they come in contact with but also affect the overall health of humans and animals alike.
We have to take active steps to reduce the amount of waste that we produce and also follow laws and properly dispose of the hazardous waste which we are already producing.
Governing bodies and NGOs should enforce laws which protect our environment and manufacturers need to have a corporate social responsibility (CSR) which allows them to take responsibility with respect to waste management after the product lifecycle gets over.