22.1.2  Hazardous waste

Hazardous wastes are treated as a separate category of waste because special management and disposal methods are required. The main sources of hazardous substances are agricultural offices/stores, health offices/stores and possibly also private firms, homes and retail shops. The toxic, corrosive, ignitable, explosive and/or infectious characteristics of these wastes require careful and stringently controlled methods of handling, storing and transportation. Hazardous wastes, because of their particular environmental health hazard, should be identified, quantified and reported to a higher level for further action.

  • What is an environmental health hazard?

  • An environmental health hazard is any environmental factor or situation that can cause injury, disease or death.

In Study Session 2 you learned about the causes and types of environmental health hazards. The immediate health effects from hazardous wastes range from bad smells and simple irritation of eyes, skin, throat and breathing (lungs), to serious health conditions that affect the nervous system and could cause paralysis of the functional body parts. Some hazardous solid wastes have teratogenic (birth defects) and carcinogenic (cancer causing) effects.

The long-term effects of hazardous wastes can be devastating to community health and wellbeing. However, it is difficult to quantify the exposure level and predict the health consequences as a result of exposure because the types of hazardous waste are so variable. If you observe or get reports from others about the presence of any hazardous waste, you should report this to the environmental health office and/or the agricultural development agent in your locality.

If you know there are stores of hazardous materials in your community, you should monitor them regularly using observation checklists and by asking for information, and then report your findings if you have any concerns. You should not attempt to bury, burn or dispose of hazardous wastes. Hazardous solid wastes require specialised methods of handling, collection, transportation and disposal. Some wastes, such as obsolete pesticides or radioactive material, may need to be transported out of the country for final disposal. (Hazardous solid wastes from health institutions will be dealt with separately in the next study session.)

22.1  Sources and classification of solid waste

22.2  Functional elements of solid waste management