When Hazardous Waste Management Goes Wrong
Recently in Tianjin, China there were a series of massive explosions. These explosions reminded us not only of the consequences of poor hazardous materials management, but the explosions also remind us of the imperative need for proper hazardous waste management.
Rui Hai International Logistics Ltd. was the business that owned the warehouse that stored the dangerous chemicals as well as transported them when needed. The company is currently under investigation.
While no one is in absolute agreement as to what chemicals were stored in the warehouse or how the explosions happened in the first place, what everyone can agree on is that this combination of chemicals was certainly enough to cause severe enough damage to not only destroy the warehouse, but to also destroy much of the surrounding area.
The silver lining here is that while this occurrence is extreme there is still something to be learned and if we can learn something then perhaps not all of this tragedy is in vain. To start the learning process we need to go back to basics.
The Characteristic Types of Hazardous Waste
There are generally four main categories for identifying the dangerous properties or characteristics of hazardous waste. These categories are corrosive, ignitable, reactive and toxic.
- Corrosive: Materials that can eat away at substances causing them to lose integrity. An example of these are acids.
- Ignitable: Flammable Materials which can also cause harmful vapors.
- Reactive: Materials that can explode or create toxic gasses when combined with different chemicals.
- Toxic: Substances which are hazardous to organic life whether swallowed or absorbed.
With all these characteristics it becomes clear why knowing what type of waste you have and how to properly store and dispose of it is so important.
Differing amounts of hazardous waste being released into the environment over time have a huge potential to contaminate the environment and the biological life living in that environment.
Understanding Proper Hazardous Waste Management
Regarding the Tianjin explosions it has been widely reported that Rui Hai International Logistics Ltd. were in violation of safety standards with some as recent as 2013.
In the report, it came to light that some of the containers being inspected did not have correct labeling.
When a container is incorrectly labeled then workers cannot properly identify what is in that container which can cause the container to be moved or stored incorrectly. Also, emergency crews are not aware of the types of hazardous materials they are dealing with which can compound an already severe problem as was the case in the Tianjin explosion.
Initial reports from the Tianjin explosion state that firefighters tried to put out the chemical fire with water. This caused a second even bigger explosion. If the firefighters knew what hazardous materials they were dealing with they likely would have applied different methods to putting out the fire.
In the United States it is a violation of the RCRA (Resource Conservation Recovery Act) to fail to clearly label and mark containers. Knowing what types of materials are being held in various containers is absolutely critical to proper and safe handling of these items.
Complementary to the safe handling and storage of hazardous materials is also having an up to date plan in place should an emergency happen.
As stated earlier, we can use the incident in Tianjin to learn and to realize how important it is to follow the regulations set forth in the Resource Conservation Recovery Act.
While cutting corners with improper labeling and storage may prove profitable in the short term, in the long term it is a gamble which if lost can cause a serious disaster to occur not only to businesses and individuals, but also to the environment and the planet we live on.
If you have any questions about how to properly label or store hazardous materials or just need additional information in the field of proper hazardous waste disposal please don’t hesitate to contact us at (866) H2O-SPILL or reach out to us online at via our contact form.
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Photo Credit: Lee Cannon