|WIT's World Ecology Report - Vol. 08, No. 2 - Critical Issues in Health and the Environment (WIT, 1996, 16 pages)|
Maritza Tennassee, MD
Pan American Health Organization
World Health Organization
Hazardous waste, produced by industrial and health care facilities, is one of the important occupational and environmental issues of our time. In the Region of the Americas, despite the economic uncertainties of the past decade, demand for and the use of products derived from natural and synthetic chemicals have continued to expand since mid-century. Today there are few aspects of modern society that do not make an ever increasing demand on consumer goods, household and agricultural chemicals and services including very advanced forms of medical care. The results of this scientific and technological progress, as measured by a general increase in the quality of life, has not only benefited mankind but is also beginning to create an increasing awareness of the hazardous consequences on the environmental quality.
The general environment reflects the state of the workplace. Toxic chemicals, radioactive material and other harmful substances used at work are regularly dispersed into the air, water, soil and biota. Global awareness has been shaped by such events as Chernobyl, Bhopal, Seveso, Minimata and the damages caused by DBCP and Asbestos.
So today environmental effects are seldom local, particularly with the growing economic integration in the Hemisphere. GATT, HAFTA, MERCOSUR, ACS, and other trade agreements between various Latin American countries have transformed the workplace into a microcosm as a global reality. It is a microcosm where social, economic, political, biophysical, chemical and ergonomics factors combine and work together to determine the health status of the workers, their families and society as a whole.
The growing concerns related to the production of a large variety of waste material by all sectors of the economy, is not only because of the ever increasing quantities that are being produced, as countries continue to develop, but also the potential impact that improper disposal of these toxic materials may have on human health. Presently, the major health concerns are: 1) sudden increases of specific adverse health effects (e.g., number of congenital malformations, birth defects, increase sterility, etc.) that are suspected to be related to increased levels of particular toxic substance (or substances) in the air, water, food or soil in particular areas; and 2) hidden exposures, of which people are not aware to be in contact with, and that could possibly lead to irreversible disease processes (e.g. cancer).
The purpose of this presentation is twofold: 1) to present a general overview of the various aspects of hazardous waste as they relate to occupational health; and 2) to present the results of a survey of hazardous waste production arising from industrial and health care activities carried out in 21 Latin American and Caribbean Countries. The study forms part of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Regional Program on Hazardous Waste Control, which serves to support and strengthen the capacity of countries in the Region to deal effectively with hazardous waste problems, and thus protecting human health and the environment.