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Minamata and The Love Canal: Two Tragic Tales of Toxic Waste Pollution

toxic wasteHazardous waste can cause catastrophic environmental damage and public health crises. There are many harmful substances in our environment which come into human contact every day.

The challenges in hazardous waste management that Utah faces today are large and require utmost attention from the public and private sectors. When improperly managed, accumulated waste can cause irreparable damage on the state’s wildlife and natural habitats. To give you an idea on the extent of damage hazardous waste can cause, here are two of the biggest disasters in history that everyone should learn from.

The Love Canal Tragedy

In 1892, William T. Love proposed connecting the upper and lower Niagara Falls by digging a six-mile canal to provide cheap hydroelectric power to the area. This region located in New York State became known as the Love Canal. However, after only a mile of the trench was dug, the project was abandoned due to lack of funding. The canal then became a landfill for chemical waste used by the Hooker Chemical Corporation, the city of Niagara Falls, and the US Army.

Approximately 22,000 tons of 200 chemicals were dumped by the Hooker company from 1942 to 1953. The land then was sold to the city government — and within a few years, became home to hundreds of houses and a school.

Health reports and strange odors were reported by residents in the following years. More than 400 types of chemicals have been found in the site, including a number of carcinogens such as benzene and dioxin. The chemical waste seeped upon the surface and residents saw higher than normal rates of stillborn babies and miscarriages, notwithstanding many babies being born with birth defects

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Minamata: A Disaster in 1953

Another such health hazard occurred long back in 1953 in a small city called Minamata in the Kumamuto Prefecture of Japan, the largest fertilizer-producing industry in that region. Minamata Bay was found to be highly polluted with wastewater released from fertilizer plants, which contained excessive amounts of mercury net.

The highly toxic compound bioaccumulated in fish and shellfish in the Bay. Being staples of their diet, the people living around the bay ended up eating toxic fish and shellfish, giving rise to the Minamata Disease. It is a toxic disorder of the central nervous system, killing thousands of people, including their culture and heritage.

While the production of modern consumer goods helps enhance our lives in many ways, its byproducts still carry innumerable dangers and threats to public health. The Minamata and Love Canal Tragedies may have undoable effects; however, they remain great lessons about the importance of managing waste properly and with it, protecting people’s lives, as well as the future of our planet.

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