Improper Waste Disposal: Effects on Humans and the Environment
Ever since the train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, the public has been paying more attention to accidents involving the transportation of hazardous waste and industrial chemicals. But why are spills like the one in Ohio so dangerous?
In this blog, we answer some essential waste disposal questions, such as the most severe effects of toxic waste on human health and the environment. How concerned should we be?
Is it just accidents that we need to be concerned about?
What about improper waste disposal that's intentional?
What Are the Effects of Improper Waste Disposal on Human Health?
Failing to adhere to proper waste disposal can result in a wide array of health and physical hazards, depending on the chemical or the type of waste involved.
For example, how do chemical fumes affect people? Depending on how the wind blows, they'll cause symptoms across a large area. Typically, respiratory symptoms will come first. How can liquid waste affect people? In the immediate aftermath of a spill, you'll have more control over who is affected because – unless the liquid gives off hazardous fumes – people will need direct contact to be exposed. And symptoms are more likely to be related to skin exposure or ingestion.
Some health hazards are apparent immediately on the first exposure – acute or short-term health hazards. Other problems may not manifest until later. While many substances have short- and long-term health effects, some will only produce one.
What Are the Short-Term Effects of Toxic Waste on Human Health?
Acute health effects from toxic chemicals or waste may include:
- Eye and skin irritation
- Chemical burns
- Difficulty breathing
Plus, some chemicals present an immediate physical hazard threatening human safety, like being flammable, explosive, or corrosive.
What Are the Long-Term Effects of Toxic Waste on Human Health?
Some types of waste can result in long-term health effects like:
- Behavioral abnormalities
- Genetic mutations
- Physiological malfunctions like organ failure
- Physical deformations
- Birth defects
When a substance causes no acute symptoms only to cause a long-term condition later, the people at risk may have no idea until it's too late.
Another type of long-term effect of toxic waste happens when hazardous substances impact our environment. Environmental effects can have consequences that may result in additional threats to human health.
What Are the Most Serious Environmental Effects Posed by Hazardous Wastes?
Various environmental issues can impede human health and wellness. But what are the most severe environmental issues?
1. Contamination of Groundwater
Chemicals seeping into the groundwater are probably the most concerning of all the possible effects of hazardous waste on the environment. We rely on clean groundwater for drinking and crop irrigation. Using a contaminated supply for either purpose can negatively impact our health – either through direct ingestion or a contaminated food supply.
While many people drink water after it's been through a treatment plant, removing an unusual hazardous substance can be difficult and expensive. There may also be delays since the mechanisms for removal aren't already in place. There's often no short-term solution to chemical water contamination. We're used to thinking of boiling water to make it drinkable, but this only helps with contamination by biohazards, not chemicals.
2. Air Pollution
Air pollution may be the second most serious environmental effect. Even if the waste has no acute health effect on the respiratory system, poor air quality can cause asthma and other conditions. It's primarily a problem for children and the elderly.
It's also intensely difficult to avoid contaminated air. The first step in an emergency is typically staying indoors, but most buildings don't have a tight envelope, so contaminated air will eventually enter. It's also nearly impossible to contain the effects. Fumes or particles can be pushed far away from the original source by weather patterns. Finally, extracting pollutants from the air is nearly impossible in most cases.
What Are the Other Effects of Hazardous Waste on the Environment?
Although we worry about water and air pollution most acutely, plenty of other environmental effects result from improper waste disposal, and most of them will eventually have knock-on effects that hurt humans.
Anything that's a health hazard for humans will also kill animals and plants in the environment – sometimes much more quickly or readily than it will affect people. What happens to the food supply when crops and livestock get sick and die? Even if you eliminate contaminated sources, there will be a shortage.
This can lead to a variety of negative economic consequences. The ripple effects from the disruption in the food supply chain will be felt everywhere, but others can be more local. If, for example, your local economy benefits from hunting, fishing, or nature tourism, then plant and animal deaths will take a toll.
Then there are often indirect, invisible services we get from the environment – plants keep soil from blowing away and act as a natural water filtration mechanism.
As a result, the effects of improper waste disposal can be enormous.
The Role of Training in Proper Waste Disposal
Proper training is a fundamental and critical step to ensuring the safe and proper disposal of toxic waste. It's the only way to ensure that workers understand the impact of waste on the environment and human health, the regulations that apply, and the procedures that effectively protect themselves and the public from health hazards.
We've been an OSHA-authorized training provider for over 20 years, and our online courses are self-paced and mobile-friendly.
Check out our extensive catalog of EHS/OSH courses and get started today!