Any waste product which is poisonous to animal or plant life may be considered "toxic waste". While this does include industrial waste, heavy industry is by no means the only source of toxic waste.

The average American family can produce toxic waste in several forms: dirty disposable diapers, automobile exhaust, suburban runoff, discarded alkaline batteries, and even junked computer equipment.

(The average CRT computer monitor contains several pounds of lead. If you dump that in your trash and have it towed to the landfill, you are adding toxic waste to the environment. No, you didn't manufacture the CRT, but you chose to toss it -- and it isn't "waste" of any sort, toxic or not, until it's thrown out.)

Arguably, the term may also include biohazardous waste, such as medical waste -- sharps, blood, and the many more gory things that a hospital has to throw out.

In any event, the problem of toxic waste is twofold -- how to get rid of what waste we already have without actually poisoning anyone (or anything, ideally); and how to minimize our production of it in the future. There are many proposals on both subjects.

This is a reprint of an article I wrote for an environmental newsletter called "Downriver Digest" in 1994. (Incidentally, not only was I 17 when I wrote it, but the groups listed in this article used it in their protest and it helped prevent the building of this well.) Some of the info may be dated (seeing as it's 8 years later), but the content is still relevent. Anyway, I hope you enjoy it.

Hazardous Waste Deep Injection Well in Romulus, Michigan

As humans have produced more and more waste, an issue of growing importance has been where to dispose of it. One method for the disposing of hazardous waste has been the deep injection well. They are approximately 4,500 feet deep and about 96 million gallons of hazardous waste can be injected into them a year. There are currently 172 of these deep injection wells in the United States, with a new one being proposed for Romulus, Michigan. The Romulus well would be Michigan's ninth.

There are many hazards associated with these wells. Twenty-two out of the 172 wells in America have leaked or suffered holes and workers were unable to detect substantial leakage from holes in well casing in six other situations. Greenpeace has stated that "in at least 2 states, deep well injection of hazardous wastes has been linked to multiple earthquakes, caused by elevated pressures and reduced friction over large areas...Injected wastes have entered groundwater through cracks, fissures, and abandoned oil and gas wells in the U.S."

The environmental organization Romulus Environmentalists Care About People (RECAP) has lead the opposition to the injection well in Romulus. This group made many statements about the detrimental effect the well would have on the city. Among other things, the group claims the well would contain 96 million gallons of hazardous waste a year that would be serviced by 19,200 trucks. Not only American hazardous waste, but also Canadian waste would be stored there and Canada would own 20% of the well. The EPA and Michigan Department of Natural Resources do not have the funds or the manpower to regulate such a commercial facility.

The lack of regulations may allow the well to grow out of control. The well will be located less than 500 yards from a residential neighborhood. The group also states the facility would attract other waste facilities to Romulus and cause reduced property values. RECAP also cited the failure of a similar injection well in Vickery, Ohio, in which owners recently paid out 30 million dollars worth of claims to property owners within a five mile radius of the well. There have been numerous other documented failures of injection wells throughout the country.

In June of 1994, Romulans voted on whether or not to levy one mil to set up an environmental protection fund which would thwart any efforts to locate a hazardous waste injection well within the city. The proposal lost 2,000 votes to 929. Residents did not want the injection well, but they didn't want to pay the mil for protecting against it, either.

As the environmental justice movement grows in the next few years, residents such as those in Romulus will have to decide between the negative side-effects caused by the lack of regard for the environment by industry, and the costs of fixing or preventing these problems.

Source: "Downriver Digest." July/August 1994.

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