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Reports & Essays: Science - Earth

"AND""OR"

How Toxic Waste Affects Our Natural Environment
Canada and all of the developed countries in the world produce some kind of toxic waste(s). It doesn't matter whether it's a chocolate bar wrapper or a canister of highly radioactive plutonium, they're potentially dangerous to us and/or our natural environment unless properly disposed of. Toxic waste is defined as any waste that is hazardous to human health or to our natural environment. According to the Institute of Chemical Waste Management, about 15% of our garbage is classified as toxic, and only 85% (approximately) of that is disposed of properly. The rest is either illegally dumped or accidentally mixed up with non-toxic garbage. That 15% may not seem like a lot, but when you consider the millions of tons of toxic waste that we produce every year, that 15% is enormous. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that we produce one ton of toxic wastes for every single person living in Canada every year. That means that the 15% represents about 4.2 million tons of toxic waste. Toxic wastes which are dumped in improper sites can seep into underground water supplies and contaminate huge areas. If the land that is intoxicated supports plant life, most of the plants and trees will die off. If the area is lived on by humans, it could cause serious illness or death. For example, an area by Niagara Falls (US side) was used during the 1930s by a chemical company to dump it's wastes. Most of them were hazardous, and the containers that held the chemicals later (after the company had gone out of business) began to leak. The chemicals spread for miles killing off plants and causing cancers and deadly diseases in humans. Included in these wastes was a chemical called dioxin... one ounce of it used under the right circumstances was enough to kill off everyone in living in Toronto. One of the most popular places to dump toxic wastes is in the oceans. People figured that the oceans were so huge that garbage would just "disappear", and sink to the bottom. Well, they were wrong. Chemicals have turned up in dead whale bodies and dead fish in high enough concentrations to kill people. Medical wastes such as used needles and vials of blood (some carrying the AIDS virus) have washed up along the Atlantic coast and in one of the Great Lakes. Mutated and disfigured fish as well as other water animals have washed up dead or been caught by fishermen. The list of stories goes on, and it's still growing. Canada and the USA have created laws and regulations to try to stop the illegal dumping of toxic wastes and the destruction of our environment. The US has created a multi-billion dollar fund called "SuperFund" to try and clean up areas that have been contaminated. Canada is also working along those lines. The government has made a prioritized list of recognised hazardous dump sites, and is forcing the company that owns the land to pay for the clean-up of the area. If the company no longer exists, or the exact origin of the waste is unknown, the government will pay for the clean-up. Some toxic wastes can actually been turned into something useful, or in other words 'recycled'. For example, several kinds of metals can be recycled. Lead and silver (both are heavy metals, which are classified as toxic wastes) are both recycled and used again. About 1/2 of the lead used in the country is recycled, and about 1/4 of the silver is recycled. Other toxic wastes can be chemically 'transformed' into new products. This is done by adding chemicals to the waste, which causes it to change into something new. Philadelphia and Chicago transform sewage sludge into fertilizer, which is put to use on farms. A huge pile of toxic waste looms over Canada. This waste is not the product of some Natural disaster like a tidal wave or a hurricane. It is a man-made pile of deadly garbage that threatens our very existance. Who is responsible for this pile? The answer, is 'us'. We are the people who buy the cheap food which was grown with the help of chemical pestisides. We are the people who demand the electricity created by the nuclear power plants. We are our own worst enemies. Pogo, a comic strip character who I learned about last year in english once said... "We have met the enemy, and he is us."

 



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