The development of many sectors of industry which has been lasting for centuries and leads to obvious advantages, such as increased economical level and comfort of our life, is simultaneously responsible for generating a huge stream of hazardous waste. If we do not consider reasonable ways of neutralizing this threat today, it can end in the situation, when the future generations will inherit a devastated environment inapt to the further existence.
Ecological disaster in Love Canal
Have you heard about tragedy in American city Niagara Falls? It occurred in the 1970’s in the district with a charming name: Love Canal. The housing estate was built on a landfill of toxic solid waste which had come from Hooker Chemicals factories. This ecological bomb contained many chemicals like concentrated acids and hydroxides, dioxins, organic solvents, synthetic resins, chlorinated hydrocarbons and fatty acids. In spite of many warnings sent directly from the industrial tycoon, new administrators of the area did not comply with the elementary security procedures. The clay seal under and around the underground landfill have been damaged during the construction of the savage. This has opened the way for toxins from corroded barrels to migrate to the soil, and then - to the groundwater.
The local government has ignored the problem which caused serious health consequences for many residents of these area. The impact of toxins has significantly increased an incidence of cancers. The rate of miscarriages and the frequency of inborn defects also grew up. Finally, the population was forced to leave their homes.
Surely, it was possible to avoid this dramatic situation. After all, the awareness of threats in those times was fairly widespread already. We can say that this was the fault of unfeeling system and desire for extending the city at all costs. The price was extremely huge.
The beginning of changes?
The above case had become a specific signpost for the rest of the civilized world, which showed potential, possible and real dangers associated with the more and more urgent issues of disposing millions of tons of hazardous waste. In spite of the growing environmental awareness and the definite actions aimed at development of modern technologies enabling the safe disposal of toxic waste, the widely considered “Modern World” is still struggling with this problem. One of the most popular ways of elimination of hazardous waste is incineration in a specially designed furnaces. However, this solution is neither universal nor perfect because not all types of waste may be burned. In addition, the exhaust gases and ashes also contain large amounts of toxic compounds. Another interesting method is the chemical processing (chemical utilization), where the hazardous waste is treated with chemical neutralizing substances. Unfortunately, the process is expensive and it generates various by-products, which are sometimes harmful as well. Significant problem is related to novel industrial compounds with a poorly recognized toxicity. Fortunately, the flow of hazardous waste in the majority of developed countries is relatively well monitored, which minimizes the risk of accumulating these substances at ordinary dump.
Acute problem in developing countries
The biggest threat nowadays seems to be an uncontrolled system of hazardous waste management in Third World countries. The environmental awareness is minimal at those places and the desire for profit unfortunately overshadows the concern for humans and wildlife. In China, the development of the industry over the last 30 years was extremely sudden and dynamic, and the natural environment was treated as a refuse dump - the reservoir at any waste in uncountable quantity. As a result of that extremely irresponsible policy, the pollution of air, water and soil in some regions of China transformed these areas to life deserts. In effect many local towns received informal nicknames "cancer village".
Ecosystems are also put in risk due to illegal transborder migration of hazardous waste. Developed countries which do not have their own systems of waste neutralization and standards of storage often take a risky shortcut - they sell their waste to poor countries, so they "remove" the problem from their territory.
We all have a lot to do
It is worth to realize that hazardous waste is not only gallons and tons of chemicals from factories called "great chemistry", pharmaceutical laboratories, cosmetic companies or manufacturers of paints and varnishes. We also generate the hazardous waste ourselves, in our own homes. These include, for example:
- Used batteries,
- Car batteries,
- Fluorescent bulbs,
- Expired drugs,
- Oil paints,
- Plant protection products: residues and packaging,
- Used motor oils,
- Corrosive cleansers.
We use many of these things every day and we have to concern with their rational management. No one will do it instead of us, so we have to do it ourselves.
Why worry about it?We must remember that this Planet Earth has given us the opportunity to live and use all resources of its environment. Acting wisely and living with respect for common good, the ecosystem will reward us by three means: by allowing the preservation of health, enjoying the nature and generating the successive wealth of goods for reasonable use by societies.
Environment Protection student at the Warsaw University of Technology. An engineer fascinated by literature and writing; a blogger who loves close contact with nature, macro photography as well as biking in the woods.