A hazardous material is any material that, because of its quantity, concentration, or physical or chemical characteristics, poses a significant present or potential hazard to human health and safety or to the environment if released into the home, workplace, or the environment.
From industrial chemicals and toxic waste to household detergents and air fresheners, hazardous materials are part of our everyday lives. Affecting urban, suburban and rural areas, hazardous materials incidents can range from a major chemical spill on a highway or at a chemical plant to accidental or intentional spills, leaks, or releases of hazardous materials in our offices or homes to groundwater contamination by naturally occurring methane gas.
These substances are hazardous because of their chemical, physical or biological nature and may pose a potential risk to life, health or property if they are improperly handled or are released. Hazards exist during production, storage, transportation, use and disposal.
Chemical plants are one source of hazardous materials, but there are many others. Your local service station stores gasoline and diesel fuel, and the university stores and uses a wide range of hazardous materials. Of course hazardous materials are found in laboratories and research areas but they can also be found in offices, maintenance areas, storage areas, and many others on the university campus. There are many hazardous materials typically found in our homes.
Drain cleaners, solvents, pesticides, paints, motor oil, dyes, and antifreeze are all hazardous materials that may be found in the home. In the office, furniture cleaners, paint, office cleaners, thinners such as rubber cement thinners and white-out thinners, white-out, and even the fluorescent bulbs can be hazardous materials. All these materials and more, need to be used, stored, and disposed of in a safe and proper manner.
When these products need to be disposed of they are considered a hazardous waste. Improper disposal of hazardous waste has caused many problems to both human health and safety and the environment. For instance, workers have been injured by fires from hazardous waste which were improperly put in trash bins. Hazardous waste that is illegally poured down drains has caused damage to water treatment plants resulting in contaminated drinking water supplies. Improper storage, use and disposal of volatile materials has resulted in many people being exposed to hazardous materials in the air we breathe.
Hazardous wastes can be either liquid, solid or gas. Hazardous wastes are classified as toxic, corrosive, ignitable or reactive.
Hazardous waste that is classified as ignitable includes the following:
- Liquids with a flashpoint of less than 60o C / 140o F
- Solids that burn spontaneously
- Flammable compressed gas
- Materials with National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) or Hazardous Materials Identification System (HMIS) flammability hazard rating of 3 or 4.
Hazardous waste that is classified as toxic contains one or more of 40 specific contaminants included in the TCLP (Toxicity Characteristic Leaching Procedure)
Hazardous waste that is classified as reactive includes the following:
- Materials that tend to be unstable at normal temperatures and pressures
- Water reactive materials
- Cyanide or sulfide bearing wastes
- Pyrophoric metals such as sodium
- Cyanide wastes
Hazardous waste that is classified as corrosive includes:
- Aqueous solutions with pH less than 2 or greater than 12.5
- Liquid that corrodes steel at a rate greater than 6.35 mm per year (0.25 inches per year) at a test temperature of 55°C (130°F)
- Strong acids
- Alkaline degreasers
- Water/wastewater treatment chemicals
- Any debris that is contaminated with this material
A hazardous waste cannot be identified by sight alone - hazardous wastes can occur as liquids, solids or gases and may resemble harmless substances. However, the following materials or situations indicate the potential for hazardous wastes:
- Piles of trash or containers
- Substances leaking from tanks or barrels
- Substances that smell bad
- Bags or piles of powder or granulated material
- Discolored water or other liquids
- Substances found in boxes marked flammable, corrosive, or explosive
- Substances found in containers marked with the traditional poison insignia - the skull and cross bones
- Any group of unmarked containers such as plastic jugs or milk cartons empty and/or containing unknown substances