Hazardous Wastes

Written by I.R.C.. Posted in Earth Matters Columns

Today’s hazardous waste collection at PNG Field at the Blair County Ballpark gives us a great opportunity to reflect upon our generation and mishandling of toxic and hazardous chemicals and products. Even if you missed today’s collection, this is a great time to pass on some reminders about the purchase, use and disposal of these sometimes dangerous products.

Not all hazardous products are created equal. Some are simply irritants, causing temporary discomfort or irritation. At the other extreme are extremely toxic chemicals or substances that are potent cancer-causers (carcinogenic). Understanding the risks, then, is a key to using them properly or deciding that you might not need to use them at all.

The poster child for the dreadfully toxic, carcinogenic chemical was DDT, which had all the worst characteristics of a chemical. It was persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic, or PBT as it is known in scientific writing. In simple English that meant it lasted a long time and resisted biodegradation. It accumulated in organisms so it was passed on through the food chain and it was a poison that by itself could cause immediate illness or death.

Though DDT and many of its chemical cousins have been illegal for decades, a number of chemicals that share some of those characteristics are still sold and used both here and abroad. Some research (and the internet is a great source) is necessary to better understand what products are the worst. We can still pass along a few general guidelines about some common toxic products.

Insecticides and Herbicides. These are generally petroleum based chemicals designed to upset the metabolism of insects or the biochemistry of vegetation. Of the 350 chemicals evaluated by the United States Environmental Protection Agency, nearly a fifth of those are listed as possible, probable or likely carcinogens. There is suggestive evidence that another five percent cause cancer. 

Many of those that are not cancer-causers are either acutely toxic or have been linked to birth defects or neurological disorders. These disorders of the central nervous system of humans are understandable since a number of common pesticides are intended to attack the nervous system of insects.

Oil-Based Paints and Varnishes. Vapors from oil-based paint and stains are especially unhealthy. Those exposed to paint vapors are more likely to develop respiratory problems, liver and kidney damage, and other related ailments. In response to concerns over these dangers, water-based, VOC-free (paint without toxic volatile organic compounds) paint has become the standard.

Mercury-Containing Products. Mercury is a potent and dangerous neurotoxin and is found in fluorescent bulbs and old style thermostats and thermometers. While some of these have been replaced by mercury-free alternatives, recycling old mercury products is important.

Beyond learning more about the dangers of what we buy and use, here are some final hints about what to do with hazardous products.
Don’t buy it in the first place. Look instead for those less toxic alternatives.
Use it up (if it can be used safely).
Recycle it at HHW Days. If you find yourself with something you don’t want or can’t use, recycle it today. If you miss today’s collection, save it for the next year
Today’s HHW collection is from 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. at the Altoona Curve’s PNG Field VIP parking lot. Visit www.ircenvironment.org for a complete list of acceptable materials. Checkout our fact sheet on latex paint, which is not accepted at the collection.

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