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8

The Line on Hazardous Waste
Hazardous waste management raises issues that
cross economic, scientific, social, and political
boundaries. The folluwing article outlines some of
the issues and offers suggestions for further reading.

Americans have ambivalent feelings toward the chemical industry.
Nearly everyone likes wrinkle-free
clothes, long-life batteries, and shatterproof bottles that bounce off the
bathroom floor, yet the public grows
increasingly fearful of chemicals.

... and Americans
faced an
interesting
dilemma.
Such was not always the case. For
years, consumers eagerly embraced
each exciting innovation from the
nation's laboratories. Hardly anyone
questioned how chemicals or chemical wastes might affect the environment. Chemical products represented
progress. The environment was not a
major public concern.
One tragic series of events shook
the public's faith in chemistry. A
disaster in Niagara Falls, New York
dramatically called public attention
to the potential danger posed by hazardous waste. Long-buried chemical
wastes were reportedly seeping into
the basements of several homes in the
city's Love Canal neighborhood.
Shocked residents feared for the
health and safety of their children.
Television cameras focused on scenes
of despair and desolation. An outraged populace wondered who was to
blame, but the tragedy had no clearly
identifiable villains - only victims.
In 1941 the American chemical
industry produced less than 1 billion

pounds of synthetic organic chemicals
and generated a correspondingly
small amount ·of hazardous waste.
Chemical manufacturers buried most
of the waste in landfills or held it in
lagoons on plant property. Both
methods of disposal were considered
safe and responsible. Hazardous
waste was out of sight and out of
mind.
By 1978 production of synthetic
organic chemicals exceeded 350 bil-

Suddenly, the public wondered if
technology was out of control.
Panic struck after the Love Canal
disaster. Many Americans armed
themselves with flashlights and crept
down the basement stairs in search of
oozing, multi-colored slime.
That danger, however, is somewhat
exaggerated. Very few people actually
live atop or directly adjacent to buried hazardous waste. Old dump sites

Hazardous Waste Control

Waste Generation

Transportation

Incineration

Secure Landfill

As a result of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act hazardous waste is tracked by using a
manifest system to follow it through the disposal process. The various steps lead ultimately to the
safe disposal of waste or recovery of usable materials.
Courtesy of Chemical Manufacturers Association

lion pounds, and Americans faced an
interesting dilemma. Chemical products made life easier and safer, but
manufacturers of those products generated a greater volume of potentially
hazardous waste (see inset).
Waste management techniques had
not kept pace with the chemical
industry's spectacular growth, and
the increasing amount of potentially
hazardous waste threatened to overwhelm existing disposal facili ties.

and improperly handled waste pose a
more serious threat to ground water
that lies beneath the land's surface in
formations of rock, sand, and gravel.
Ground water is the primary
source of drinking water to approximately half the nation's communities.
It is also easily contaminated and virtually impossible to cleanse.
Contamination results when
porous soil allows mishandled waste
Continued on Page 2

Federal Reserve Bank of Boston Vol. 8, No. 1 - March 1982


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Hazardous Waste
Secure Chemical Landfill

Continued From Front Page

to leach (seep) into ground water.
Depending on an area's soil conditions, leaching wastes can migrate
vertically or horizontally at speeds
ranging from a few feet per day to a
few feet per decade.
A well-designed, secure chemical
landfill retards leaching with a lining
of compacted clay or some other
impermeable material. Unfortunately, most old landfills and dump
sites are unlined. Wastes seeping from
such sites frequently foul municipal
wells and endanger public health.

LAW OF THE LAND
Old and abandoned disposal sites
also pose a difficult economic problem. Those that threaten ground
water must be secured . Cleanup operations, however, are usually expensive, and all too often the owners of
old sites are either dead, bankrupt, or
unidentifiable. (Massachusetts taxpayers paid nearly $3 million to
secure a chemical reclamation facility
after the facility's owner declared
bankruptcy.)
In an effort to address this problem, Congress passed the Comprehensive Environmental Response,
Compensation and Liability Act
(1980). The act created a $1.6 billion
"superfund " to help pay for the
cleanup of abandoned or inactive
hazardous waste disposal sites. Much
of the money will come from the
chemical industry, in the form of an
excise tax to be paid by the manufacturers, producers, or importers of 42
specified chemicals. The excise tax
ranges from a low of 22<r per ton on
some chemicals to a high of $4 .87 per
ton on others.
As of November 1981, the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency
(EPA) had targeted 114 top-priority
waste dumps for "superfund" cleanup
aid. Most of the sites present an
immediate threat to the ground water
supplies of nearby towns.
The "superfund" act follows an earlier piece of legislation known as the
Resource Conservation and Recovery
Act (1976). RCRA is designed to combat illegal dumping and halt the proliferation of dangerous dump sites.
Prior to RCRA's passage, manufacturers often contracted for what they
thought would be responsible disposal, only to have the contractor
dump the waste illegally. In one particularly chilling instance, a North
Carolina firm hired a contractor to
haul PCB-contaminated waste to a
secure, out-of-state disposal site. The
2


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Monitoring well colkm
undergrou nd \\ acer to check

for possible cnnwmi na tion.

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Solidwaste
layers

Monitoring
well

1

Subsurface
lateral drains
rforatcd and

·

a drainpipe"' hich d
hate

Natural soil

Groundwater
Courtesy of Chemical Manufacturers Association

contractor subsequently dumped
much of the deadly cargo along 210
miles of North Carolina roadways.
(PCBs are linked to a variety of health
disorders. See inset.)
RCRA seeks to prevent such violations by establishing a "cradle-tograve" monitoring system to track
hazardous waste from generation
through disposal. Any manufacturing plant, laboratory, or transportation center that generates more than
2,200 pounds of hazardous waste per
month must comply with regulations
that set standards for safe handling
and disposal. The act also covers
waste transporters and disposal facilities. Compliance with RCRA will
probably cost industry well over $1
billion annually, but if the legislation
succeeds, life will be more difficult for
unscrupulous waste handlers and
safer for everyone else.

GOOD NEWS/BAD NEWS
The same technology that creates
hazardous waste, also provides the
means for effective waste management. Modified plant designs ,
improved manufacturing processes,
secure landfills, controlled incineration, reclamation, and recycling are
viable waste management options.
These technological innovations
are far preferable to older disposal
solutions. Many are considerably
more expensive as well. One chemical
manufacturer invested $75 million in
a new energy-from-waste facility.
From 1977 through 1980, the same
manufacturer also budgeted more
than $180 million for environmental
programs.
Advanced waste management
technology and government regula-

tion will undoubtedly mm1m1ze the
danger posed by hazardous waste .
Both will also add to the cost of doing
business. (The cost for responsible
disposal, treatment, or storage of hazardous waste ranges anywhere from
$10 to $150 a drum, depending on
toxicity. By contrast, illegal dumping
sometimes costs as little as $1.50 a
drum.) Some of the increased cost
will inevitably be passed on to consumers through higher prices for
chemical products. This creates a
problem because consumers have
usually balked at paying more for
intangibles. Health, safety, and the
environment have traditionally taken
a back seat to price, convenience, and
styling.
Responsible waste management
also places an economic burden on
smaller companies. Many will not be
able to pass on their increased costs
and still maintain a competitive position. Large and small companies alike
may decide to spend less money on
research for new products.
Finally, adverse economic conditions may dampen public enthusiasm
for measures aimed at controlling
hazardous waste. Concern over inflation and unemployment may take
precedence over concern for the environment.
Hazardous waste management
raises a number of provocative economic and social issues. No issue,
however, is more urgent or more sensitive than choosing the location for a
hazardous waste disposal facility.
Environmentally sound hazardous
waste disposal facilities are technologically feasible and economically
vital. In areas that lack adequate

waste management capacity, illegal
dumping will continue, public health
will suffer, and commerce will
decline. Soaring transportation costs
will force businesses to locate or relocate closer to waste disposal facilities.
Most people readily acknowledge
the need for additional waste management facilities. The problem is that
hardly anybody wants to live in the
same town with one. They frighten
people. Some fear that property values will plummet. Others wonder if
the facilities are truly safe.
Hazardous waste can be properly
managed, but the challenge is complex and the expense is considerable.
The problems involved in locating a
hazardous waste disposal site clearly
illustrate that innovative technology,
legislative guidelines, and more
money can only do so much. Success
ultimately hinges on whether or not
industry, government, and the public
can join in a cooperative effort to confront difficult issues and deep-seated
fears.

FOLLOW-UP
Each of the following selections
offers a different perspective on one
or more of the critical questions that
surround hazardous waste management. Few of the questions have clearcut answers. Many are charged with
emotion. Informed public participation is essential if such questions are
to be resolved.
Factline, Number 1, "A Hard Look at
the Love Canal."
Factline, Number 11, "Love Canal:
The Facts (1892-1980)."
Both pamphlets published by:
Hooker Chemical Company, P.O.
Box 4289, Houston, Texas 77210,
attn: Public Affairs & Communications
Hazardous Waste Update, a newsletter published by: Division of Hazardous Waste, Dept. of Environmental Quality Engineering, 1 Winter
Street, 8th Floor, Boston, MA 02108,
attn: Update
Laying Waste, Michael H. Brown.
Pantheon Books, New York, 1980.
Managing Chemical Waste, a booklet published by: Chemical Manufacturers Association, 2501 M Street,
Nw, Washington, D.C. 20037
Minamata, W. Eugene Smith. Holt,
Rinehart, and Winston, New York,
1975. Photos and text describe the
effects of mercury poisoning on residents of a Japanese fishing port.
"Promise and Perils of Petrochemicals," Barry Commoner. New York
Times Magazine, September 25,
1977, pp. 38-40 + .

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HAZARDOUS WHAT?
Chemical waste often makes
headlines. Not all hazardous
wastes, however, are generated
during the manufacture of chemicals and chemical products.

Hazardous ux:zstes are created by a
variety of sources including industry, tlie military, schools, hospitals,
and research laboratories. Of these,
industry is the largest generator.
Most industrial and manufacturing processes generate some hazardous UX1ste. Seventeen industries are
expected to be most affected by hazardous 'UXlste regulations bemuse the
type of hazardous UX1stes they produce are expensive to treat or dispose
ofand/or bemuse they generate large
oolumes of hazardous UX1stes: electronics; electroplating; plastics;
metal finishing; special machinery;
manufacturing; inorganic chemimls; textiles; metals smelting and
refining; leather tanning and finishing; pesticides; rubber; pharmaceutiazls; paint and allied products;
batteries; explosives; and petroleum
refining and rerefining.

Methyl mercury, formed by the
action of bacteria in sediments on
mercury metal and on mercuric
ions, mn muse poisoning, deafness,
brain damage, and a range of birth
defects.

Excerpt from Hazardous Waste
Problem and Its Management,
Massachusetts Department of
Environmental Quality Engineering, September 1981.

Pesticide residues found in mothers' milk and in blood, urine and
other human fluids indimte haw
widespread toxic substances contamination has become.

Hazardous wastes are either
flammable, explosive, corrosive,
or toxic. Some are strange and
frightening. Many, such as used
automotive oil, are not. All hazardous wastes, however, have
one thing in common. If improperly handled, they pose a potential threat to public health.

Courtesy of Mass. DEQE

Polychlorinated biphenyls
(PCBs), used as a heat transfer fluid
for electriazl transformers, mpacitors, and other equipment, and as an
additive in dyes, mrbon paper, and
plastic since the 1930s, are a mse in
point. PCBs, or their chlorinated
dibenzofuran (CDBF) contaminants, mn muse acute skin, eye,
reproductive, developmental, neurologiazl, and respiratory disorders.

Some workers exposed to asbestos,
even for a short time, have developed
a rare mncer of the chest and stomach linings, 30-40 years after initial
exposure.
Excerpts from Toxic Chemicals
and Public Protection, A
Report to the President by the
Toxic Substances Strategy
Committee, May 1980.

the

LEDGER
Editor: Robert Jabaily
Graphics Arts Designer: Ernie Norville

Photography: Wilson Snow
Johannah Miller

This newsletter is published periodical/y as
a public seroice by the Federal Reseroe Bank
of Boston. Th e reporting of news about
economic educat ion programs and
materials should not be construed as a
specific endorsement by the Bank. Further,
the material contained herein does not
necessarily reflect the views of the Federal

Reseroe Bank of Boston or the Board of
Governors. Copies of this newsletter and a
catalogue of other educational materials
and research publications may be obtained
free of charge by writing: Bank and Public
Information Center, Federal Reseroe Bank
of Boston , Boston . MA 02106, or by
cal/ing: (617) 973-3459.

3

Innovative
Classroom
Mmm Mmm, GOOD!
The guidelines for good nutrition
used to be simple and direct. A breakfast of bacon and eggs was the only
way to start the day, and a good steak
was the best meal money could buy.
Nutrition education was equally
simple and direct. Teachers hung
posters that featured two wholesomelooking children, one cow, and selections from each basic food group.
Times change, of course, and new
information now challenges some
long-standing assumptions about
good nutrition. The overwhelming
volume and variety of available information sometimes leads to uncertainty at the grocery s tore and
frustration at the dinner table ("They
say everything is bad for you, so you
might as well just eat what you
like!").
The growing volume of nutrition
information also challenges nutrition
.education to be more comprehensive
and less prescriptive. Simply urging
students to eat a balanced diet no
longer suffices.

FOOD ... Your Choice is a nutrition learning system that offers just
such a comprehensive approach . The
activity-oriented curriculum provides
students with a framework for making intelligent decisions about nutrition.
National Dairy Council developed
FOOD ... Your Choice with input
from curriculum specialists, nutritionists, child development experts,
classroom teachers, and professional
evaluators. The K-12 learning system

Fed Update
Artists in Artisanry, an exhibition
of work by faculty of Boston University's Program in Artisanry, will open
at the Federal Reserve Bank Gallery,
600 Atlantic Avenue in Boston, on
March 5. The exhibition is free and
open to the public and will be on view
through April 23. Gallery hours are
Monday through Friday, 10 a m to 4
Pm .
Goosed, box wi th sculpture lid, cast bronze, by

J. Fred Woell.

4


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►

is well-designed and simple to use .
Each of its four levels is geared to the
needs of a specific population, and all
the levels can be used in conjunction
with an existing curriculum .
Levels One through Three comprise the learning system's elementary
school component. Level Four serves
secondary school students and offers
four separate units on each of the following subject areas: health, home
economics, sciences, and social studies. Both the elementary and secondary school components have been
nationally field-tested in urban, suburban, and rural schools.
In addition to being well-designed
and comprehensive, FOOD ... Your
Choice is enjoyable. The graphics are
attractive and the activities are imaginative.
Finally, FOOD ... Your Choice
addresses several topical issues that
many nutrition education programs
ignore. The secondary school social
studies unit, for example, explores
such areas as government regulation
of the food industry, industrial pollution's effect on the food supply, and
the food additives issue.
National Dairy Council offers
FOOD ... Your Choice to educators
at a very low cost, and Dairy Council
representatives conduct free workshops to familiarize teachers with the
nutrition learning system. For further
information on FOOD ... Your
Choice, contact New England Dairy
Council:
Boston, MA
(617) 734-6750
Worcester, MA (617) 755-6239
West Springfield, MA (413) 7338198
Cranston, RI
(401) 781-4292
Bedford, NH
(603) 472-5761
Hartford, CT
(203) 527-5197

Multi-Media
Your Credit Rating, published by the
Federal Reserve Bank of New York
Fair and accurate credit reporting is
important to the creditor and the consumer. YOUR CREDIT RATING discusses the major factors considered
by a creditor in granting credit privileges, what a credit file contains, and
to whom it may be issued . It also
briefly outlines the consumer's rights
under the Fair Credit Reporting Act.
Free copies of the pamphlet are available from the Bank and Public Information Center, Federal Reserve Bank
of Boston, Boston, MA 02106, (617)
973-3459. (Appropriate for high
school and adult level.)
Fiscal Policy, published by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis
Government plays a role in the
United States economy. FISCAL
POLICY delineates some of the
approaches government might take to
change the amount it collects relative
to the amount it spends. It also examines the potential impact of budget
deficits as well as various ways of
measuring and stabilizing economic
activity. Discussion questions follow
the text . Free copies of the publication
are available from the Federal Reserve
Bank of St. Louis, 411 Locust Street,
P.O. Box 442, St. Louis, MO 63166 or
from the Bank and Public Information Center, Federal Reserve Bank of
Boston, Boston, MA 02106, (617)
973-3459. (Appropriate for high
school and adult level.)
Electronic Funds Transfer, published by the Federal Reserve Bank of
Philadelphia
This pamphlet describes some of
the common EFT services offered by
financial institutions. It also summarizes important rights and responsibilities outlined in Regulation E for
users and providers of those services.
The publication is available from the
Consumer Affairs Department, Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia,
P.O. Box 66, Philadelphia, PA 19105.
(Appropriate for high school and
adult level. )

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LEDGER