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Every day, we use chemicals all around us and more than 70,000 chemicals are used regularly worldwide. Whether they are synthetic, man-made or natural, when used and disposed of properly, they are able to enhance the quality of life. However when they are improperly used and disposed of, they may have harmful effects in the environment, including humans.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “Hazardous waste is most often a by-product of a manufacturing process - material left after products are made. Some hazardous wastes come from our homes: our garbage can include such hazardous wastes as old batteries, bug spray cans, and paint thinner. Regardless of the source, unless we dispose of hazardous waste properly, it can create health risks for people and damage the environment.”

Hazardous waste that is released into the environment may turn into health risks. For instance, when rain falls on soil to a hazardous waste site, it may carry it deeper into the ground, affecting groundwater. As stated by the EPA, Hazardous waste may cause injury, illness or death when:

  • A large amount is released at one time
  • A small amount is released many times at the same place
  • The substance does not become diluted
  • The substance is very toxic (for example, arsenic).

Exposure depends on:

  • How the substance is used and disposed of
  • Who is exposed to it
  • The concentration, or dose, of exposure
  • How someone is exposed
  • How long or how often someone is exposed.

We may be exposed to these hazards through the following methods:

  • Inhalation – breathing vapors from hazardous liquids or even from contaminated water even as showering.
  • Ingestion – eating food that has been contaminated through exposure to hazardous substances. The main type of exposure is drinking contaminated water. Children often eat soil or other small household materials that may be contaminated, like paint chips that have lead. Probably the most common type of exposure is drinking contaminated water.
  • Dermal exposure – The skin comes into contact and absorbs a hazardous substance.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued the HAZWOPER standard to protect workers against hazardous waste. OSHA HAZWOPER requirements are available online to employers and employees to take part in.

image by: Monty Rakusen/Corbis

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