In the U.S., hazardous waste is defined as any discarded solid or liquid that is highly corrosive, toxic, reactive enough to release toxic fumes, or easily ignited. It can include solvents, pesticides, and spilled chemicals -- including acids, ammonia, chlorine bleach and other industrial cleaning agents -- as well as most heavy metals.
Health risks associated with hazardous waste include:
- developing skin and blood infections;
- eye and respiratory infections from exposure to hazardous dust;
- intestinal infections transmitted by fleas feeding on the waste.
Long-term exposure to hazardous waste can lead to chronic respiratory diseases such as asthma, damaged liver and kidneys, or cancer. Poisoning and chemical burns can result from contact with even small amounts of toxic chemical waste. Even brief exposure can cause headaches, dizziness, and nausea.
Even non-hazardous, organic human waste that is not properly managed can be a serious health hazard, since it ferments and creates a good environment to let bacteria and other germs grow. The waste also attracts flies, rats, and other creatures that become infected and can spread infectious diseases, including malaria and plague.
There are four primary means of becoming exposed to hazardous waste. It can be ingested, injected through contact with infected sharp objects, absorbed through skin or eye contact, or inhaled in the form of gas, mist, dust or vapor.
The American Society of Civil Engineers contributed to the information in the TV portion of this report.