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21.8: Hazardous Waste

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    When do a few illnesses indicate a larger problem?

    At Love Canal, New York, many children became sick. Many pregnancies never went to term. More than half of the babies born had a birth defect. Residents started to notice that things were not normal. When they investigated, they found out that their homes and school were built on a toxic waste dump. They called attention to the problem and asked for help.

    The Story of Love Canal

    Love Canal is a neighborhood in Niagara Falls. It is the site of one of the worst environmental disasters of all time. Love Canal gained worldwide attention in the late 1970s when the press started covering its story. The story is outlined and illustrated below (Figure below).

    The story of Love Canal

    What can we learn from the story of Love Canal?

    Pollution by Hazardous Waste

    Love Canal highlighted the problem of pollution by hazardous waste. Hazardous waste is any waste that is dangerous to the health of people or the environment. It may be dangerous because it is toxic, corrosive, flammable, or explosive. Hazardous waste can contaminate the land, soil, and water.

    • Toxic waste is poisonous. Toxic waste may cause cancer or birth defects in people. It may also harm other living things.
    • Corrosive waste is highly reactive with other substances. Corrosive waste may cause burns or destroy other materials that it touches.
    • Flammable waste can burn easily. It may also give off harmful fumes when it burns.
    • Explosive waste is likely to explode. The risk of explosion may be greater if the waste is mixed with other substances.

    Hazardous Waste Around Your Home

    Pictured below are some examples of hazardous waste (Table below). Look closely. Are any of these examples lurking around your home?

    Example Description


    Cars contain toxic fluids such as brake fluid. The fluids may also be corrosive and flammable. This photo shows one way the fluids can end up in the ground.


    Cars use gasoline and oil. These materials are toxic and flammable. They pollute the land when they leak or spill.


    Batteries contain toxic and corrosive materials. People often toss them in the trash, but they should be disposed of properly.


    Electronics, such as old computers, contain toxic chemicals. They may be sent to landfills where the toxic materials end up in the ground.


    Medical waste can contain many hazards: Human body fluids may cause disease; old thermometers may contain toxic mercury; and pharmaceuticals may be toxic to people and other living things.


    Paints can be both toxic and flammable. Paints may spill on the ground or be thrown improperly in the trash.


    Chemicals are applied to farm fields and lawns. They include fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides. Many of these chemicals are toxic to people and other animals.


    • Hazardous waste is material that is toxic, chemically active, corrosive, or flammable.
    • Hazardous wastes are damaging to the environment or human health.
    • Hazardous materials are found in a variety of settings, including industry, agriculture, and people's homes.


    1. What is hazardous waste?
    2. What are the types of hazardous waste?
    3. Look around your home and garage, if you have one. Name some materials that are toxic.

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