World Environment Day: Hazardous waste- a threat to ecosystem!

Updated: Jun 07, 2011, 17:08 PM IST

Shruti Saxena

The rapid growing population and economic development is leading to a number of environmental issues in India because of the uncontrolled growth of urbanization and industrialization, expansion and massive intensification of agriculture, and the destruction of forests.

A lot is still needed to be done to understand and find ways to reduce and mitigate the effects of harmful substances and hazardous waste on human health and the environment.

A proper study needs to be undertaken to identify the negative impacts of these chemicals that contaminate land, water and air. This hazardous waste is being produced by various countries and poses serious risks to not just the people and the environment but, it also has the potential to contaminate other non-hazardous waste and substances if it is not adequately controlled.

What is hazardous waste?

Rapid industrialisation in the last few decades have not just led to the depletion of pollution of precious natural resources but also generation of huge quantities of hazardous wastes, which have further aggravated the environmental problems by depleting and polluting natural resources. Therefore, rational and sustainable utilisation of natural resources is vital for sustainable socio-economic development.

In simplest of definitions, hazardous waste is waste that poses substantial or potential threats to public health or the environment. Hazardous waste is most often a by-product of a manufacturing process - material left after products are made.

Types of wastes

There are several types of hazardous wastes which include-Industrial waste, which comprise of oil sludge, waste oil and oil soaked rags etc. The next form is the Municipal Solid Waste, which is generated from residential dwellings, offices, hotels, canteens etc. and finally we have Biomedical waste, which is generated from hospitals and animal houses.

How does hazardous waste affect us?

When hazardous wastes are released in the air, water or on the land they pose greater threats to our health. A hazardous substance can cause injury or death to a person, plant or animal under conditions like when large amount is released at one time, the substance is very toxic or if the substance is not diluted etc.

Now, when a person comes into contact with a substance, this is referred as exposure. The effects of exposure depend on factors like how the substance is disposed of, the amount of exposure, the time period of exposure etc.

Humans, plants, and animals can be exposed to hazardous substances through inhalation, ingestion, or dermal exposure.

The Opportunity

Keeping the environment and people safe from harmful substances and hazardous waste goes beyond management. It involves measures to avoid these dangers entirely by removing them, wherever possible, both from production and use.

Yes, we still have a solution to it. Proper management and control can greatly reduce the dangers of hazardous waste. There are many rules for managing hazardous waste and preventing releases into the environment. This is basically known as waste management.

Waste management involves collection, transportation, processing, recycling and monitoring of waste materials produced by human activity and is mainly undertaken to reduce their effect on the environment and human health.

Ideally, hazardous waste is reused or recycled. Typical methods of hazardous waste storage and disposal include surface impoundments (storing it in lined ponds), high temperature incineration (controlled burning), municipal and hazardous waste landfills (burying it in the ground), and deep well injection etc.

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