Chemical Waste Disposal

A captain of a ship drunkenly crashes a massive oil tanker along a reef and changes the physical and emotional world forever. Chemical spills are major problems that plague the environment. Strict government regulation is trying to aid with this problem, but governmental leaders face many challenges. Disposal of harmful chemicals is often difficult and costly. Since chemical waste has destroyed the environment, steps are being taken to prevent further pollution.

A local Danish based pharmaceutical company named Novo Nordisk released its 1999 environmental report. The company, which strives to keep from contaminating the environment, confessed to two separate accidents for the year. Novo Nordisk’s Clayton, North Carolina plant was fined from the United States Department of Agriculture 1,000 dollars. This was due to the fact that 11,000 liters of hydrochloric acid was disposed of in the public sewage system (“Putting Values” 36). New management has taken action to insure this does not happen again (Wall). Also, at the Gentofte site in Denmark wastewater with the E- Coli bacteria was drained into the public sewage system from a leaky heater exchanger (“Putting Values” 36). The incident was reported to the local authorities and cleaned up quickly.

A local company offered to donate expired chemicals to local schools. The company reported it would be possible to set up an account for almost any needy school (Wall). The chemicals have expired in the date in which they can be used but, as one expert reported would be fine to use in schools for experiments and related activities. The companies prefer to donate the chemicals because it keeps them from the costly action of disposing of them properly. For example Novo Nordisk in Clayton, North Carolina has a program in which they donate hydrochloric acid and other expired chemicals to Clayton High School (Wall). A chemistry teacher at North Johnston High School was unaware that companies could donate their expired chemicals. Her comment of the quality of the expired chemicals was positive. “Expired chemicals would be fine to use for experiments and help me out a lot due to the small budget I am allowed each year for chemicals” (Barnes). A representative from Novo Nordisk stated that a program could easily be established if schools would show interest in the program (Wall).

Certain disasters stick out in the mind of men. They have a lasting effect and often they teach a valuable lesson. Chernobyl was a nuclear plant in Ukraine that ended up being the worst nuclear leak in history. The media reported that, “On April 26, 1986, Chernobyl’s number four reactor exploded, spewing a cloud of radioactive material across a portion of Europe in the world’s worst civilian nuclear reactor disaster” (Chernobyl). Officials estimate that about thirty people were killed immediately and more than fifteen thousand people died in the emergency clean up afterwards.

Experts concluded that radiation equivalent to five hundred times that released by the atom bomb dropped on Hiroshima was measured in the atmosphere around Chernobyl after the 1986 explosion. Altogether around 3.5 million people, over a third of them children, are believed to have suffered illnesses as a result of radioactive contamination. United Nations figures show that millions in Ukraine, Belarus and Russia still live on contaminated land (Chernobyl). However, fourteen years later, uncertainty still hangs over the planned closure of the nuclear plant this year, despite warnings that it is a time bomb.

Another disaster example was that, “On March 24, 1989 at 4 minutes past midnight, the oil tanker Exxon Valdez struck a reef in Alaska’s breath-taking Prince William Sound. Instantaneously, the quiet waters of the sound became a sea of black. That Black Sea turned out to be a total of 11,000,000 gallons of crude oil leaking from the ruptured hull of the ship” (Oil Spill).

By the time a containment effort was put forth, a weather storm had helped to spread the oil as much as three feet thick across 1,400 miles of beaches. A little over ten years have passed since the largest oil spill and the greatest environmental disaster in American history, but the waters and its surroundings are still recovering. “Up to this point, the oil has contaminated a national forest, four wildlife refuges, three national parks, five state parks, four critical habitat areas and a state game sanctuary, which spreads along 1,400 miles of the Alaskan shoreline” (Oil Spill). Recent scientific studies show that the oil continues to wreak havoc among many spawning salmon, herring, and other species of fish.

This is even more devastating when considering that much of the wildlife around the sound is dependant on the high calorie, high fat content of the herring as their prime food source (Oil Spill). Listed are the specific animal incidents; “Among the many casualties were 2,800 sea otters, 300 harbor seals, 250 bald eagles, as many as 22 killer whales, and an estimated quarter-million seabirds” (Oil Spill). Within an ecosystem, each living thing depends on other living things. That means that when the fish died in Prince William Sound, there was less food for the seals that normally eat them. As those seals died, there was less food for the killer whales that eat seals. This has led to a domino effect within the food chain, victimizing many of the animals surrounding the area. Twenty-three species of wildlife were effected by this oil spill, and only two species, the bald eagle and the river otter, have fully recovered.

Within the first two years, Exxon had paid nearly $2.1 billion on clean up and another $1 billion in damages last name ages to Alaska and the United States in the form of civil and criminal fines. Along with the $3 billion spent in clean up and fines, Exxon was also ordered to pay $5 billion in punitive damages, which it has managed to fend off through ongoing appeals (Oil Spill). Not much good comes out of a story as tragic as the Exxon Valdez, but there have been some benefits. On August 18, 1990, eighteen months after the oil spill, the Federal Oil Pollution Act (OPA) was passed. The OPA of 1990 ended a fourteen-year deadlock over how to improve oil laws. This act is summarized by the fact it allows the government to act much quicker upon notification of an oil spill and holds oil companies accountable for all financial liabilities.

This in turn has forced companies to review their oil policies and procedures and implement safer ways to transport oil. This ended a deadlock year between the House and the Senate. None of these events would have occurred, had it not been for that fateful oil spill (Oil Spill). In regards to oil spills, they are best summarized by this, so long as there are ships, and humans steering them, accidents will happen, and maybe huge ones. Much is to be said on the cause and effect of the Exxon Valdez oil spill, but since the time clock can not be turned back, people must see the brighter side of every picture. Some of the wildlife has almost made a full recovery.

Canada has setup a system that seems to be effective. The United States are considering similar policies. Federally the central piece of legislation in Canada is the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA). “CEPA is the consolidation of five statutes: The Environmental Contaminants Act, the Air Quality Act, the Canada Water Act, the Ocean Dumping Act, and the Department of the Environment Act” ( Muldon 23). The CEPA contains important penalties and sanctions; provisions for the collection of information and for evaluation; provisions for the control of importation and exportation of toxic substances; and provisions for the reduction of wastes, the cleanup of coastal zones, the protection of the ozone layer; the reduction of acid rain and urban smog; and provisions for the development of regulations. All provinces and territories have enacted their own legislation, establishing general environmental rights and responsibilities; but the level of environmental protection established is not equal all across Canada.

In “Ontario there were 1, 546 charges laid in 1994 about half of those were convicted” (Parker 36). When found guilty the judge has a number of ways to punish the offender. One of the ways is through fines. One example shown is “In the CEPA it permits fines of up to $1, 000, 000 for some offenses, while in the most serious cases there is no ceiling on the amount of the fine that can be raised” (Poch 56). In the OEPA there is no set limit at which fines can be set. In 1994 there was $ 2, 427,833 in total fines paid by offenders. “The largest environmental fine in a contested hearing was to Robert Brown and Robert Len Brown Construction Ltd. Fines had been set at $364,000 for numerous offenses resulting from the illegal storage of tires. In addition, Mr. Brown was handed another $250,000 worth of related costs for a total of $614,000.”

One company that cleans and decontaminates sites is CERCLA. The purpose of CERCLA is to make owners and operators of hazardous waste dump sites and contaminated areas, as well as their customers, responsible for cleanup costs and property damage. CERCLA is also referred to as THE SUPERFUND. It is authorized to a level of 8.5 billion dollars. “The funding for CERCLA comes 87% from taxes on the chemical industry and 13% from general revenues of the federal government” (Parker 96). After a hazardous waste site is identified, CERCLA places ultimate cleanup responsibility on those who used the site. Parties responsible for a waste dump are liable for the cost of waste removal and other remedial action. If potentially responsible parties can be identified, then they can be held liable for either cleanup costs incurred, or for replenishment of the Superfund (Parker 98).

The threat of environmental degradation now looms greater than the threat of nuclear war. Even Patrick Henry said in the late 1770s, “I know no way of judging the future but by the past.” In the past man has trampled on the environment. Chemical disposal is rapidly becoming more regulated and costly for companies who do not follow the regulations set. What is so astronomical is that a small leak in a plant could destroy life in an entire city and contaminate it for years as people are seeing now at Chernobyl. Outrageous prices also help to instigate a problem. Some chemicals must be shipped overseas because there is not anywhere in the United States to dispose of them properly. It is just cheaper to take the chance and throw dangerous chemicals out and get rid of them. Ultimately it is the job of corporations to take the responsibility to protect the environment to ensure a bright future.