toxic waste is waste material, often in chemical form, that can cause death or injury to living creatures. It usually is the product of industry or commerce, but comes also from residential use, agriculture, the military, medical facilities, radioactive sources, and light industry, such as dry cleaning establishments. The term is often used interchangeably with "hazardous waste," or discarded material that can pose a long-term risk to health or environment. Toxics can be released into air, water, or land. In 1976 the Toxic Substances Control Act required the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate potentially hazardous industrial chemicals, including halogenated fluorocarbons, dioxin, asbestos, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and vinyl chloride. Other federal legislation pertaining to hazardous wastes includes the Atomic Energy Act (1954), the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (1976), and the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, or Superfund Act (1986). Toxic waste treatment and control has proved to be expensive and time-consuming with more resources spent on court battles than on actual cleanup. The disposal of toxic wastes is also a topic of international concern. In 1989, some 50 countries signed a treaty aimed at regulating the international shipment of toxic wastes. In some cases such wastes are shipped to developing countries for cheap disposal without the informed consent of their governments. The often substandard shipping, storage, and treatment methods endanger human health and the health of the environment. See air pollution; pollution; solid waste; water pollution.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.