Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

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Interactives

IntroductionSolid 
WasteIndustrial WasteSewageGlobal EffortsRecycle NowRelated 
Resources

Hazardous Waste

Hazardous waste presents immediate or long-term risks to humans, animals, plants, or the environment. It requires special handling for detoxification or safe disposal. In the U.S., hazardous waste is legally defined as any discarded solid or liquid that

  • contains one or more of 39 carcinogenic, mutagenic, or teratogenic compounds at levels that exceed established limits (includingmany solvents, pesticides, and paint strippers);

  • catches fire easily (such as gasoline, paints, and solvents);

  • is reactive or unstable enough to explode or release toxic fumes (including acids, bases, ammonia, and chlorine bleach); or

  • is capable of corroding metal containers such as tanks, drums, and barrels (such as industrial cleaning agents and oven and drain cleaners).

The EPA has a list of more than 500 specific hazardous wastes.

Who's Responsible?
Businesses such as metal finishers, gas stations, auto repair shops, dry cleaners, and photo developers produce many toxic waste products. These by-products include sulfuric acid, heavy metals found in batteries, and silver-bearing waste, which comes from photo finishers, printers, hospitals, schools, dentists, doctors, and veterinarians. Heavy metals, solvents, and contaminated wastewater result from paint manufacturing. Photo processing also creates organic chemicals, chromium compounds, phosphates, and ammonium compounds. Even cyanide can be a by-product, resulting from electroplating and other surface-treatment processes.

If you think industry is the only source of hazardous waste, you may be surprised. There is hazardous household waste as well. For example, do you use any of the following items?*

automotive products, such as gasoline, antifreeze, and batteries
oil-based paints and thinners
pool chemicals
pesticides, herbicides, and other garden products
household cleaning products

* There are nontoxic alternatives to many of these products that, when disposed of, do not constitute hazardous waste. Check with a local "green consumer" organization or find out more in the related resources section of this exhibit.

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