Hazardous Substances are toxic or dangerous materials that may cause physical harm if touched, ingested, or inhaled. The term can refer to solids, liquids, gases, or dust and include anything from asbestos (a mineral) to ammonia (a gas).
The sources of exposure may be intentional (e.g., a chemical spill) or unintentional (e.g., fumes from machinery).
Sources of Hazardous substances
Waste from manufacturing and construction processes such as solvent-based paints, pesticides, herbicides are a major source of hazardous substances. They can also be found in cleaning products, such as those used to clean floors and furniture, and in weed killers.
Sometimes, contaminants are released into the environment accidentally. These may be carried through the soil, water, or by the wind, or in workers' clothing when they come into contact with soil or water. They can also be added to wastewater (e.g., through leaking pipes) and enter the environment due to seepage.
Health Effects due to exposure
Exposure to hazardous substances leads to many health complications. The most common ones are respiratory problems, skin irritation, and eye irritancy.
Exposure to too many toxic materials can cause damage to the nervous system and the immune system. Some chemicals found in products, such as solvents, may also be carcinogenic; that is, they can lead to the formation of cancer. Exposure to some substances can cause developmental damage in unborn children, even if some time has passed since the exposure.
Other possible effects include burns (e.g., paint) and skin lesions (e.g., pesticides), headache, nausea, vomiting, and eye irritation.
Legal Status of Hazardous substances in India
The definition of a hazardous substance is specified under section 2(e) of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 as "any substance or preparation which can cause harm to human beings, plants, microorganisms, and other living creatures due to its chemical or physiochemical properties or handling."
Section 3 of the Environment (Protection) Act empowers the Union Government to take necessary measures to preserve and protect the environment. It also empowers the Central Government to lay down procedures for the handling of hazardous substances so that it is done safely.
The government also regulates many hazardous substances, and often, permission from the government is required for their entry into the country. There are many substances listed as hazardous under the regulations of the Indian Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF). Some examples include asbestos, lead, soil and dust from construction and manufacturing sites, mercury compounds, etc.
Hazardous substances are those that possess the potential of causing harm to human health and the environment. They may be found in many different products and in various locations. Manufacturers of such substances will often mark them as "danger" or "warning", and some also provide written directions for safe use. People should follow these directions for their health and safety and for the good of the environment in general.
FAQs on Hazardous Substances
Q.1. Which Act empowers the Central Government to lay down procedures and safeguards for the handling of hazardous substances?
Section 3 of the Environment (Protection) Act empowers the Central Government to lay down procedures and safeguards for the handling of Hazardous Substances.
Q.2. What are some examples of hazardous substances?
Some examples of hazardous substances include asbestos, lead, ammonia, methane and propane gas, mercury compounds, and uranium.
Q.3. What are some popularly used household products which contain hazardous substances?
The most commonly used household products which contain hazardous substances include those used for cleaning (e.g., floor cleaners, window cleaners), polishing and waxing (e.g., furniture waxes), painting walls, and woodwork (e.g., paints), etc.
Q.4. What types of health effects are associated with exposure to hazardous substances?
The most common health effect associated with exposure to hazardous substances is respiratory problems, damage to the nervous system and the immune system, headache, nausea, vomiting, and eye irritation.