What is Chemical Waste?

G. Melanson

Chemical waste includes both the chemical byproducts of large manufacturing facilities and laboratories, as well as the smaller-scale solvents and other chemicals disposed of by households. It may fall under the classification of hazardous waste, depending on the nature of the chemicals — for example, chemicals such as ethanol and glycerol don’t require special disposal procedures. Health and safety legislation varies internationally and dictates the manner in which this waste must be handled and disposed of. In the United States, it is regulated by the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act as well as the Clean Water Act; while the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations (COSHH) regulates chemical waste in the UK.

If chemical waste is not handled properly, the environment and nearby individuals are at risk.
If chemical waste is not handled properly, the environment and nearby individuals are at risk.

If chemical waste is not handled or disposed of properly, both the environment and nearby individuals are put at risk by its potentially corrosive, toxic, flammable or explosive nature. Proper handling of this waste first requires the separation of chemicals that may react with one another, such as salts from acids, hypochlorites and hydroxides from ammonia, and oxidizing substances from combustible substances. After it is properly separated, it should be safely stored in tightly-sealed drums, bottles, tins or jars that will not be corroded or otherwise affected by the contents.

Many research labs produce chemical waste.
Many research labs produce chemical waste.

Special disposal services are usually contracted by the manufacturing facilities that produce chemical waste to have it removed in a manner that complies with health and safety regulations. It is then transported to a special disposal facility, where it is eliminated according to its compound substance or substances. Most chemical waste, including chlorinated solvents, are incinerated at a high temperature, while others are treated by wet chemical methods. After it has been incinerated or treated by wet chemistry, the residues are then safe to dispose of in a landfill.

The repercussions of improper chemical waste disposal often receive a high level of media coverage, particularly when the manufacturing plant or facility demonstrates deliberate negligence. For example, the Hooker Chemical Company of New York disposed of its waste in an incomplete canal and covered over the land before selling it for $1 US Dollar (USD) to the Niagara Falls city school board. In 1977, residents were evacuated after chemical leakage was detected on the site, which by that time featured a school and residential subdivision.

Federal and local laws require specific procedures for disposing of chemical waste at manufacturing plants.
Federal and local laws require specific procedures for disposing of chemical waste at manufacturing plants.

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Discussion Comments


@Animandel - I'm not justifying what the Hooker Chemical Company did when they buried the chemical waste illegally, but there are many people who don't see anything wrong with this. They don't think there is much of a risk that the chemicals will actually harm people and the environment.


@Animandel - There are plenty of companies and individuals who for one reason or another don't throw away and dispose of dangerous chemical waste the way they should.

I enjoy hunting, and my friends and I go hunting on private land that is owned by our hunting club. The other week, we were deep in the woods in the middle of a hunt when we came across a pile of barrels that had contained chemicals.

The barrels were mostly empty, but some of them still had some of the contents. The barrels should have been classified as hazardous chemical waste and disposed of accordingly. Instead they were stacked up in the woods, about 15 feet from a stream.

Rather than pay the extra cost for disposal and thus getting rid of their chemical waste the right way, some people simply dump it where they think it can't be found or at least where if it is found it can't be traced back to them. That's just the reality of the way some people are, and how important money is to them.


I don't know the specifics of the Hookerton Company of New York case mentioned in the final paragraph of this article, but how terrible is that? It's bad enough that a company would bury hazardous chemical waste in that way. For this alone, the company should be heavily fined and people should go to prison.

Then as if this crime is not bad enough, they sell the land to a school district and allow a school to be built when they are aware of what is buried under the ground. How heartless can you be?


If disposing of chemical waste at your property or business, be sure to keep it away from any flammable materials and away from children and pets.

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