What Are the Effects of Hazardous Waste on Human Health and Environment?

Let’s explore the effects of hazardous waste on human health and the environment — how can we dispose of it safely?

Hazardous waste is a byproduct that can do real damage when it isn’t disposed of properly and safely. Such waste can result from a range of activities, including water treatment, manufacturing, farming and construction, to name a few. While hazardous waste is inevitable to some degree, what is in our control is how we treat it to minimise its harmful impact.

To emphasise the importance of appropriate waste management, we must explore the effects of hazardous waste on human health and the environment.


The Effects of Hazardous Waste on Human Health

It’s been well documented that exposure to hazardous waste can have a significant impact on human health. As expected, those most vulnerable in our society are most at risk when it comes to such pollutants. The effects of hazardous waste on human health will vary depending on the type of hazardous waste and how it enters the body. While some dangerous chemicals absorb quickly through the skin, others don’t absorb at all.

The Environmental Protection Agency in the United States has highlighted the following ways in which hazardous waste can have serious short-and-long-term effects on the body:

  • • Eye and skin irritation
  • • Chemical burns
  • • Difficulty breathing
  • • Headaches
  • • Nausea
  • • Behavioural abnormalities
  • • Cancer
  • • Genetic mutations
  • • Physiological malfunctions (kidney failure, reproductive impairment)
  • • Physical deformations
  • • Birth defects

Related: What Is Hazardous Waste?


The Effects of Hazardous Waste on the Environment


As well as risks posed to the human body, hazardous waste mismanagement can also have hugely harmful effects on the environment. The resulting contamination and pollution can have significant impacts on us and everyone around us, given that it has the potential to affect our air, soil and water supply.

Water Pollution

One clear and present danger of mismanagement of hazardous waste is the impact on our water supply. When chemicals make their way into our rivers and lakes, they make this water unsafe for drinking. The water is also unsafe to use for agricultural purposes. Animals drinking this water will get sick and die, and plants that rely on the water will be destroyed. Ultimately, the hazardous waste will have limited the ability of the surrounding ecosystem to survive.

Fires

Some hazardous waste is flammable. It has the potential to ignite or explode, causing a fire. In the wrong circumstances, this could result in widespread wildlife death and damage to the environment, which could take years to put right.

Mutations in Wildlife

More long-term effects on the environment include signs of mutation in animals. Evidence has been released suggesting certain fish that habitually swim in severely polluted estuaries along the US East Coast, have mutated to develop a strong resistance to hazardous waste. While this might sound like a positive, most animals won’t be able to adapt like this, and most mutations are seriously disadvantageous. 

Short and Long Term Effects

It’s worth noting that hazardous waste can have short-and-long-term effects on the environment. Sometimes substances produce toxic effects after just one release — this is what we refer to as “acute toxicity”. However, other substances begin to have a significant impact after a certain period and prolonged exposure. This is what we know as “chronic toxicity”. As an example, we can look to toxins such as lead and mercury. When these toxins are present in the environment for many years, they accumulate. Wildlife and people then absorb these toxic substances when they eat fish or other prey — resulting in damaging, long-term effects on the environment.

How to Safely Dispose of Hazardous Waste

Appropriately and safely disposing of hazardous waste isn’t as easy as it might sound. Even with the best of intentions, companies can make mistakes, resulting in real damage. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer to this question. Each hazardous waste needs to be treated and disposed of in different ways. With so much at stake, it’s worth getting expert insights and assistance. Services such as Axil Integrated Services offer total waste management solutions, ultimately saving you time and money while affording you the peace of mind of knowing your hazardous waste is disposed of safely, appropriately and lawfully. 

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