The term “hazardous waste” brings up images of anything that is hazardous, including biologicals, solids, liquids and gases. But the official definition of hazardous waste can vary. The EPA, for example, begins with the requirement that the waste is solid. The US Environmental Protection Agency has a very comprehensive, complex and interactive site that illustrates the complicated nature of classifying hazard waste within the definition of solid waste.
There are hazardous wastes, hazardous materials and hazardous substances.
There are three classifications of solid hazardous waste: listed in the official list; exhibits a characteristic of hazardous waste; or is in neither class and is non hazardous material or waste.
Within the official list, there are four categories: F, K, P and U list. The F list covers “non specific source” wastes. Examples are in the entire production industry that has wastes from solvents that are used for cleaning and hazardous wastes from other processes. The broad spectrum of sources contributes to the “non specific source” classification.
The K list covers “source specific” wastes. Examples are products of petroleum refining and pesticide production. There are sludges from waste water treatment and there are wastes from a spectrum of production processes.
The P and U lists includes chemical and pharmaceutical production waste or unused chemicals and residue.
Hazardous “materials” are anything, including solid matter, that can harm life or the environment. Hazardous materials can be biological, chemical or material of a physical nature. In other words, no matter what the form, if there is the potential to harm life or the environment by the material alone or through interactions between the material and something else, it can be classed as hazardous, whether it is waste or not.
Such material moves on the highways and through the air transport system. It rests in warehouses and remains in the environment ater certain activities. Workers move it, use it in production and other processes. Scientists and physicians work with it. Communities and biomes are exposed to it. Health is affected by it. Some of it is heavily secured and accessible only through the most rigorous security mechanisms that can be developed.
The Environmental Protection Agency, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Department of Transportation and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission each have specific definitions, regulations and ways of defining, restricting access, transporting, securing, handling, disposal, storage, containment and regulation of hazardous material.
In addition, there are civilian and government forms of security, safety, management and control of a massive array of materials that are so hazardous that death or environmental destruction would be imminent. Also, at the maximum hazard, the consequences of mishandling would be catastrophic. These include nuclear materials, scientific and experimental substances and a host of biological hazards.
Hazardous materials professionals are involved with the material from it’s production to the end of it’s disposal, remediation or containment process. Such professionals can work as part of production teams, research and development teams, management teams, as adviser from government or civilian firms, and as regulators
The average citizen manages hazardous material by reading the labels of products and by knowing the local waste disposal ordinaces. The product label will identify the nature of the hazard and give disposal instructions. The local waste management agency will advise on how to dispose of other solid hazardous material.
Being aware of the drainage of sinks and property into the water table will make the average citizen aware of how everything from discarding medicines in household sinks, to anything that is tossed into storm drains, to used batteries can affect the water table and the environment.
In summary: hazardous materials production, management, use and disposal is work that everyone has a role in, no matter how small.
Institute of Hazardous Materials Management, “What is Hazardous Material?”