Hazardous waste and its proper disposal have become a major sociological problem today due to its capability of contaminating the area in which we live and its potential to be lethal to all living things. In order for the United States and the rest of the world to save itself from a potentially life threatening problem they must fix the causes which lead to the improper disposal of hazardous wastes and like materials. Some reasons that hazardous waste has become a problem in the United States today is due to the breakdown in enforcing laws for the proper disposal of such wastes, a lack of initiative on big companies behalf to spend money on proper disposal, and the ease of disposing of such wastes illegally. The mistakes of the past need not be repeated, for hazardous waste can be controlled using methods that prevent damage to human health and the environment. These methods have been neglected in the past primarily because they cost more than indiscriminate or careless dumping, and because no law required their use(Kiefer, 1981, p.51).
The problem of hazardous waste today actually stems from the growth of the United States industry after the Second World War. However, "with the benefits, unavoidably, come hazardous wastes(Kiefer, 1981, p.9). Hazardous wastes are the byproducts of everyday industry, ranging from heavy metals like lead, mercury, copper to more dangerous chemicals including cyanide, acids, and synthetic organic compounds. "The EPA has established four characteristics that may be used to determine whether or not a waste should be classified as hazardous: Ignitability, Corrosivity, Ractivity, and Toxicity"(Block, 1985, p.44). All of these substances and many more are dangerous to wildlife and humans if they are not properly disposed. In 1976 the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act was put into effect by the Environmental Protection Agency. This act requires "that hazardous waste be controlled from the time it is produced to its final disposal from "cradle-to-grave"(Kiefer, 1981,p.11). However, "before RCRA went into effect, about ninety percent of hazardous waste was disposed of by methods that did not protect human health or the environment"(Kiefer, 1981, p.15). "In New Jersey alone 30 percent (120,000 gallons) of waste is treated or disposed of in 20 licensed New Jersey facilities. The remaining seventy percent (280,000 gallons) goes to out-of-state facilities or is illegally dumped in New Jersey"(Dodd, 1980).
One reason behind such methods was that before 1976 there were no laws that required corporations to treat or dispose properly the hazardous wastes that they produced. In the capitalist nation we live in these corporations did not see any incentives to properly disposing of hazardous wastes. This would take coming up with new processes, building new equipment, and doing a lot of research that would in the end just cost these companies millions of dollars. Such companies found it much easier to dump these poisonous chemicals in the ground or into waterways, thereby washing their hands of the problem. Another method was to hire out "midnight-haulers". These people would load up their trucks with hazardous wastes and while driving let it leak out onto the ground.
Another driving force behind the improper disposal of hazardous waste was the Mafia. "Organized crime controlled the solid waste disposal industry through the major trade associations, the relevant Teamster locals, and the connivance of political cronies"(Block, 1985, p.102). The Mafia has the ability to buy public officials with ease. This and their scare tactics led many EPA officials to do nothing about the illegal activities that took place. "Imagine an EPA inspector or state regulatory agent trying to deal with firms controlled by the members of the most powerful crime syndicates in the country"(Block, 1985, p.103).
All of these reasons led up to the illegal dumping of toxic and or hazardous wastes...
Bibliography: Block, Alan A. (1985). Poisoning for profit The Mafia and toxic waste in America.
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Dodd, Frank J. (1980, Oct. 7). Hazardous Waste Can Be Controlled. The New York Times, C 7.
Enthoven, Alain C. (1973). Pollution, Resources, and the Environment New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.
Kiefer, Irene. (1981). Poisoned Land : The Problem of Hazardous Waste. New York : McClelland & Steward, Ltd.
Purvis, Andrew. (2000, July 17). Deadly Discharge. Time: Internet. 3 Oct 2000. Available http://www.time.com/time/europe/magazine/2000/228/danube.html.
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