What is Toxic Waste
Toxic waste are poisonous byproducts of manufacturing, farming, construction, farming, city sewage and septic systems, automotive garages and repair shops, laboratories, hospitals, along with other industrial processes. The hazardous waste may come in the form of liquids, solids, or sludge and contain dangerous chemicals, heavy metals, radiation, dangerous pathogens, among other toxins. Households even generate hazardous waste from such common items as old batteries, old computer equipment and other electronics, old paints and pesticides to name several.
There are, in fact, many items in your household that can, and are considered to be toxic waste. To find out which items in your house classify as hazardous waste you can consult the Household Products Database which lists most, if not all of the potential toxic substances in items commonly found in homes.
Toxic WasteAs for contaminants in your city, town, or other regions in the U.S. you can visit Tox Town to find out which hazardous wastes might be in your neighborhood. It provides a wealth of information about toxic chemicals in your neighborhoods, and concerns your health, your environment, and where you live, work, and play.
The threat of hazardous waste on humans and the environment usually isn’t fully understood or respected until it is too late and some severe repercussions are discovered. Many companies used to dump toxins into rivers, the ground, lakes, canals, and the oceans until something bad happened as a result of their actions, typically people or animals dying or getting sick, and unfortunately for most of us, someone or some group had to take them to court to make them stop doing this, and laws were eventually created to stop and further prevent the dumping of toxic waste into our drinking water supplies, and other areas which could severely harm both ourselves and the environment. We could include this in our man made disasters list which we will in time, but first let us further discuss this problem.
Eventually all of this immoral, unethical, and illegal toxic waste dumping resulted in the creation of the EPA and the start of Earth Day.
Problem is that some Superfund sites are not even started yet, and with the current state of affairs in Washington and the anti-environment atmosphere being brought about by ALEC and right wing extremist’s, they may never get cleaned up. In fact, as of 2008 there were 1,255 sites listed on the National Priority List with 63 new sites proposed(¹) and as of 2010 there were 20,587 TRI facilities and 1,673 NPL Superfund sites nationwide.²
In 1970 President Richard M. Nixon (1913-1994) signed an executive order that created the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as an independent agency of the U.S. government. The creation of a federal agency by executive order rather than by an act of the legislative branch is somewhat uncommon. The EPA was established in response to public concern about unhealthy air, polluted rivers and groundwater, unsafe drinking water, endangered species, and hazardous waste disposal. Responsibilities of the EPA include environmental research, monitoring, and enforcement of legislation regulating environmental activities. The EPA also manages the cleanup of toxic chemical sites as part of a program known as Superfund.
If you are curious, as we were, TRI stands for Toxic Release Inventory.
TRI is a database containing data on disposal or other releases of over 650 toxic chemicals from thousands of U.S. facilities and information about how facilities manage those chemicals through recycling, energy recovery, and treatment. One of TRI’s primary purposes is to inform communities about toxic chemical releases to the environment.
TRI (Toxic Release Inventory) Facilities 2010:
Map of All Superfund NPL (National Priorities List) Sites: All Chemicals
According to the EPA National Priorities List, as of March 15, 2012 there are 62 proposed sites, 1302 final sites, and 359 deleted sites. Unfortunately for many of us, some of these sites in the final site list date back to the early 1980’s, so they are some 30 years old and growing older by the day, so I would not put too much stock in our current level of efforts to clean up these toxic waste dumps, nor, as I explained earlier, with the right wing extremist anti-environment agenda brought about by ALEC I would not count on things moving along any faster. In fact, with their attempts to underfund and undermine the EPA’s authority, we may never see any of these sites cleaned up. The way things are rolling now, we may see a big jump in new sites as well with the current business model of profits over anything as well.Just to give you an example of how the world treats toxic waste, a Global Ban on Toxic Waste Exports Advances;
More than 170 countries agreed Friday to accelerate adoption of a global ban on the export of hazardous wastes, including old electronics, to developing countries.
The environmental group Basel Action Network called the deal, which was brokered by Switzerland and Indonesia, a major breakthrough.
“I’m ecstatic,” said its executive director, Jim Puckett. “I’ve been working on this since 1989 and it really does look like the shackles are lifted and we’ll see this thing happen in my lifetime.”
The deal seeks to ensure that developing countries no longer become dumping groups for toxic waste including industrial chemicals, discarded computers and cellphones and obsolete ships laden with asbestos, he said.
Delegates at the U.N. environmental conference in Cartagena agreed the ban should take effect as soon as 17 more countries ratify an amendment to the so-called 1989 Basel Convention.
“This agreement was stalled for the past 15 years,” Colombia’s environment minister, Frank Pearl, said in praising the vote.
Katharina Kummer, the convention’s executive secretary, estimated it will take about five years to reach the required 68 ratifying nations. Puckett said he thought it would be closer to two years.
Fifty-one nations have already ratified the 1995 amendment, which effectively enforces the Basel Convention, a treaty aimed at making nations manage their waste at home rather than send it overseas.
The United States, the world’s top exporter of electronic waste, is among nations that have not even ratified the original convention.
“Unless the U.S. joins the treaty they are just going to be a renegade,” Puckett said, adding that the U.S. has no rules for exporting electronic waste, which it sends mostly to China but also to Africa and Latin America.
Apparently, the US has no interest whatsoever of doing anything with our toxic waste, and are just fine to send it to some one else’s doorstep and let them worry about it, now how immoral and unethical is that? But we can all drive around in our hummers and SUV’s an text on our iPhone’s about how great we are, how superior we are, how much better we are than China, how much more compassionate or morally superior we are over those savages, yet we irresponsibly sends thousands of tons of hazardous waste which we created for our own materialistic greed to poison some innocent victims in a far away place. 60 Minutes did an expose on the Following the Trail of Toxic E-Waste, and came up with this:
Another report from Scientific American Trashed Tech Dumped Overseas: Does the U.S. Care?, which indicated that the EPA knew that most of the 1.9 million tons of discarded e-waste went into landfills which is from the EPA. It went on:
The EPA also knows that this so-called e-waste contains cadmium, mercury and other toxic substances, and it is responsible for making sure that lead-laden monitors and television sets with cathode-ray tubes (CRT) are disposed of properly and the parts recycled. But congressional investigators charge that the EPA has failed to even attempt to clean up the mess—or keep it in check. The agency has “no plans and no timetable for developing the basic components of an enforcement strategy,” concludes a report released this week by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), Congress’s investigative arm.
GAO official John Stephenson testified at a House hearing yesterday that his investigators had posed as would-be buyers of CRT waste in Hong Kong, India, Pakistan, Singapore and Vietnam and found at least 43 recyclers willing to export the toxic e-waste from the U.S. in direct violation of EPA regulations. In addition, unlike the European Union (E.U.), the EPA has no regulations concerning the disposal of other types of used electronic devices, despite their dangers.
“This is a failure to enforce even the weak regulations they have,” says Democratic Rep. Gene Green of Houston, who introduced a House resolution calling for a ban on the export of e-waste. (Sen. Sherrod Brown (D–Ohio) introduced a similar measure in the Senate.) “EPA is sometimes not as interested in doing what statutorily they should be.”
According to the report, the EPA told GAO officials that it prefers “non-regulatory, voluntary approaches” to the growing e-waste problem. “EPA currently has 10 ongoing investigations and the [regional offices] plan to conduct inspections at electronic waste collection and recycling facilities this year,” wrote assistant administrators Granta Nakayama and Susan Parker Bodine in response.
In another hazardous waste embarrassment for the U.S. there is the story of the garbage barge Khian Sea and Toxic Wastes and Haiti:
Two decades ago, the garbage barge, the Khian Sea, with no place in the U.S. willing to accept its garbage, left the territorial waters of the United States and began circling the oceans in search of a country willing to accept its cargo: 14,000 tons of toxic incinerator ash. First it went to the Bahamas, then to the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Bermuda, Guinea Bissau and the Netherlands Antilles. Wherever it went, people gathered to protest its arrival. No one wanted the millions of pounds of Philadelphia municipal incinerator ash dumped in their country.
Desperate to unload, the ship’s crew lied about their cargo, hoping to catch a government unawares. Sometimes they identified the ash as “construction material”; other times they said it was “road fill,” and still others “muddy waste.” But environmental experts were generally one step ahead in notifying the recipients; no one would take it. That is, until it got to Haiti. There, U.S.-backed dictator Baby Doc Duvalier issued a permit for the garbage, which was by now being called “fertilizer,” and four thousand tons of the ash was dumped onto the beach in the town of Gonaives.
It didn’t take long for public outcry to force Haiti’s officials to suddenly “realize” they weren’t getting fertilizer. They canceled the import permit and ordered the waste returned to the ship. But the Khian Sea slipped away in the night, leaving thousands of tons toxic ash on the beach.
For two years more the Khian Sea chugged from country to country trying to dispose of the remaining 10,000 tons of Philadelphia ash. The crew even painted over the barge’s name — not once, but twice. Still, no one was fooled into taking its toxic cargo. A crew member later testified that the waste was finally dumped into the Indian Ocean.
The activist environmental group, Greenpeace, pressured the U.S. government to test the “fertilizer.” The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Greenpeace found it contained 1,800 pounds of arsenic, 4,300 pounds of cadmium, and 435,000 pounds of lead, dioxin and other toxins. But no one would clean it up.
The cost of the cleanup at Gonaives had been estimated to be around $300,000. Philadelphia’s $130 million budget surplus would more than cover it, but Philadelphia lawyer Ed Rendell — then mayor of that city and later Chairman of the Democratic National Committee — refused to put up the funds. Joseph Paolino, whose company (Joseph Paolino and Sons) had contracted to transport the waste ash aboard the infamous Khian Sea garbage barge owned by Amalgamated Shipping, refused as well.
U.S. law was interpreted to protect the dumpers, not the dumped on. Unwilling recipients of toxic wastes are offered no recourse. In recent years, much of the waste from industrialized countries is exported openly, under the name of “recycled material.” These are touted as “fuel” for incinerators generating energy in poor countries. “Once a waste is designated as ‘recyclable’ it is exempt from U.S. toxic waste law and can be bought and sold as if it were ice cream. Slags, sludge’s, and even dusts captured on pollution control filters are being bagged up and shipped abroad,” writes Peter Montague in Rachel’s Weekly. “These wastes may contain significant quantities of valuable metals, such as zinc, but they also can and do contain significant quantities of toxic by-products such as cadmium, lead and dioxins. The ‘recycling’ loophole in U.S. toxic waste law is big enough to float a barge through, and many barges are floating through it uncounted.”
Every year, thousands of tons of “recycled” waste from the U.S., deceptively labeled as “fertilizer,” are plowed into farms, beaches and deserts in Bangladesh, Haiti, Somalia, Brazil and dozens of other countries. The Clinton administration followed former President George Bush’s lead in allowing U.S. corporations to mix incinerator ash and other wastes containing high concentrations of lead, cadmium and mercury with agricultural chemicals and are sold to (or dumped in) unsuspecting or uncaring agencies and governments throughout the world. (Greenpeace Toxic Trade Campaign, “United States Blocks Efforts to Prohibit Global Waste Dumping by Industrial States,” December 2, 1992.)
These dangerous chemicals are considered “inert,” since they play no active role as “fertilizer” — although they are very active in causing cancers and other diseases. Under U.S. law, ingredients designated as “inert” are not required to be labeled nor reported to the buyer.
While the new political shift to the extreme right and the movement in the U.S. towards anti-environment moves forward, the rest of the world is not amused, nor are some American groups like the National Resource Defense Council, whom are opposed to the illegal and morally reprehensible toxic waste dumping in third world nations, and wants to put an End the Dumping of e-Waste into the Developing World had this to say on the subject:
Across the Digital Divide” this week, which documents the dumping and hazardous management of electronic waste in Ghana. (http://www.nytimes.com/slideshow/2010/08/04/magazine/20100815-dump.html )This practice is not limited to Ghana and infects many other developing countries including China, India and Pakistan.
As NRDC’s representative to the United Nations Basel Convention on the Trans-boundary Movement of Hazardous Waste in the late 1980s, a treaty that was intended to end the dumping of hazardous wastes by industrialized countries into the developing world, I have watched with disappointment for almost two decades as the United States stands virtually alone in the world in not ratifying that treaty. The dumping of electronic waste, which was a very small fraction of our concern when we negotiated the Basel treaty, is now a huge hazardous waste problem in the developing world, contaminating water supplies and land with toxic heavy metals, dioxins, PCBs and acids, and putting some of the world’s poorest populations at great risk.
Even with all that we know about this illicit, dangerous and unethical trade, it is unlikely that the United States Congress will ratify the Basel treaty due to opposition from unethical waste processors with strong political clout in Washington, DC. And it is even less likely that Congress will enact amendments to the Basel treaty adopted by European Union nations that strengthen it and make the export of e-waste to the developing world outright illegal.
Self-interested firms who export e-waste to the developing world misleadingly argue that this is a “Free Trade” issue. Or they claim to be “donating” used electronics to poor people around the world who can’t afford new electronic equipment. What they are really doing is hiding behind phantom policies that sound nice but in fact export poisons to some of the poorest people on Earth, people already disproportionately burdened with unimaginable ecological, financial, social and political problems.
Another report which you won’t ever hear on the six o’clock news is from the Black Star News, New York’s Leading Investigative Newspaper did a report on Somalia: Western Toxic Waste Dumping and Piracy and wrote the following:
The escapades of Somali pirates made headlines last week. But the media has ignored the injustice behind the phenomenon.
When the Asian tsunami of Christmas 2005 washed ashore on the east coast of Africa, it uncovered a great scandal.
Tons of radioactive waste and toxic chemicals drifted onto the beaches after the giant wave dislodged them from the sea bed off Somalia. Tens of thousands of Somalis fell ill after coming into contact with this cocktail. They complained to the United Nations (UN), which began an investigation. “There are reports from villagers of a wide range of medical problems such as mouth bleeds, abdominal hemorrhages, unusual skin disorders and breathing difficulties,” the UN noted.
Some 300 people are believed to have died from the poisonous chemicals. Many European, US and Asian shipping firms – notably Switzerland’s Achair Partners and Italy’s Progresso – signed dumping deals in the early 1990s with Somalia’s politicians and militia leaders.
This meant they could use the coast as a toxic dumping ground. This practice became widespread as the country descended into civil war. Nick Nuttall of the UN Environment Program said, “European companies found it was very cheap to get rid of the waste.
“It cost as little as £1.70 a ton, whereas waste disposal costs in Europe was something like £670 a ton. “And the waste is of many different kinds. There is uranium radioactive waste. There is lead, and heavy metals such as cadmium and mercury. There is also industrial waste, hospital wastes, chemical wastes – you name it.”
But despite the evidence uncovered by the tsunami, an investigation into the practice of toxic dumping was dropped. There was no compensation and no clean up. In 2006 Somali fishermen complained to the UN that foreign fishing fleets were using the breakdown of the state to plunder their fish stocks. These foreign fleets often recruited Somali militias to intimidate local fishermen.
Despite repeated requests, the UN refused to act. Meanwhile the warships of global powers that patrol the strategically important Gulf of Aden did not sink or seize any vessels dumping toxic chemicals off the coast.
So angry Somalis, whose waters were being poisoned and whose livelihoods were threatened, took matters into their own hands. Fishermen began to arm themselves and attempted to act as unofficial coastguards. They began to seize ships in late 2005. These were released after a ransom was paid. Among them were cargo vessels, luxury cruise liners and tuna fishing boats.
Januna Ali Jama, a Somali pirate leader, explained that their actions were motivated by attempts to stop the toxic dumping. He said that the £5.4 million ransom they demanded for the return of a Ukrainian ship would go towards cleaning up the mess.
- MedlinePlus Poisoning, Toxicology, Environmental Health
- Environmental Health & Toxicology Specialized Information Services – A to Z List of Resources in Environmental Health & Toxicology
- National Institute of Health – National Library of Medicine Environmental Health and Toxicology Resources of the United States National Library of Medicine
- ¹ Green Answers.Com
- ²TOXMAP Environmental Health e=Maps
- University of Colorado, Boulder – America, the Environment, & the Global Economy Colorado – Killing Legally with Toxic Waste
- Miami University, Ohio Environmental Science A Global Concern Chapter 23 — Solid, Toxic, and Hazardous Waste
- Toxic waste incineration: Ramesh urged to talk to MoEF
- Computer Recycling Centers: How to find Responsible Electronics Recycling Companies
- Household Hazardous Waste Disposal
- EPA Hazardous Waste Codes
- Basel Convention – Controlling Trans-boundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal
Well, while the Basel Convention attempts to bring a halt to the illegal and immoral practice of toxic waste exporting, we now know what is toxic waste, and so do most of those nations whom we dumped it on unsuspectingly. It won’t be so easy in the future to send our toxins and poisons overseas to raise the bottom line. Spread the word and support the Basel Convention and stand up to legalized corporate murder by the export of poisons. Peace my friends!