Hazardous Waste

What is Hazardous Waste?

Hazardous waste describes waste products from industrial environments or health services that are toxic, flammable, explosive, oxidizing, corrosive, infectious, or otherwise harmful either to human health or to the environment. This may include asbestos, medical waste, chemicals, oils, contaminated soil, and electrical equipment.

Common Sources of Hazardous Waste

Estimates suggest over 400 million tons of hazardous waste are produced globally every year. The top three industries responsible for producing hazardous waste are thought to be:

The Chemical Industry: Manufacturing a huge range of chemicals used in many products, and often derived ultimately from crude oil, chemical production produces large amounts of various types of hazardous waste.

Paint Manufacturing: Heavy metals and solvents used in the production of paints can be extremely harmful to the environment.

Paper Manufacturing: The processing of wood into paper involves multiple harmful chemicals. In many cases, management of hazardous waste including collection, transport, and processing is outsourced by businesses to specialist companies.


Classifications of Hazardous Waste

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) classifies four types of hazardous waste: Listed, Characteristic, Universal, and Mixed.

Illustration of a list including the four types of listed waste: F, K, P and U
Listed Waste
Icons of a flame, explosion, corrosive chemical, and a skull with crossbones to illustrate characteristic waste
Characteristic Waste
Illustration of various types of discarded batteries and lightbulbs as an example of universal waste
Universal Waste
Illustration of mixed types of waste material piled up in a trash can
Mixed Waste

Listed Waste:  A specific list of identified waste types. These are sub-divided according to four principles:

  • F-List: non-specific waste from non-specific sources but produced by any manufacturing or industrial process
  • K-List: Specific waste from specific industry sources and processes
  • P-List and U-List: Specific lists of commercial chemical products that are unused but disposed of. Discarded products that qualify must contain at least one of the chemicals listed, must be unused and must be in a commercial product form.


Characteristic Waste: Waste identified by its characteristics. Sorted by four main criteria: ignitability, corrosivity, reactivity (i.e. potentially explosive), and toxicity.

Universal Waste: Waste consisting of common products and chemicals that can be harmful to the environment. These include lightbulbs, batteries, explosives, toxic and infectious waste, radioactive waste and other miscellaneous substances and items.

Mixed Waste: Waste containing both hazardous materials and radioactive components. These can be:

  • Low-Level Mixed Waste (LLMW)
  • High Level Mixed Waste (HLW)
  • Mixed Transuranic* Waste (MTRU)


* Transuranic elements are chemical elements with atomic numbers greater than 92 (the atomic number of uranium). They are unstable and decay radioactively

Two workers donned in ChemMax chemical protection cleaning large oil tanks

PPE for Hazardous Waste Protection

Dealing with hazardous waste consists of four key processes: collection, transport, treatment, and sorting. While the first stage of any safety policy should be to engineer systems that remove the risk of contact with hazardous materials, in many cases, at any of these stages workers may need suitable PPE including protective clothing.

In selection of PPE for hazardous waste protection, it is important to understand what the waste is (if possible) and to establish its characteristics and how it might cause harm: Is it likely to ignite or explode? Is it toxic?

Given the wide variety of potential hazardous waste types and characteristics, selection of suitable protective clothing can only be made following a risk assessment.

Because of the range of different application-specific hazards involved, it is impossible to specify garments for use to protect against hazardous waste generally. Each application must be considered on a case-by-case basis.


However, in general terms:

For low hazard risks – light liquid sprays and dusts, disposable suits (EN Types 5 & 6 or OSHA Protection level C) may be suitable. These are lighter-weight fabrics and featuring some level of air-permeability.

For higher hazard risks – liquid chemical splash and sprays require EN Type 3 or 4 or OSHA protection level B suits. These feature barrier fabrics and generally include sealed seams. I key issue is ensuring permeation resistance against the specific chemical.

For very high hazard chemicals, or harmful chemicals that may be in vapor or gas form may need fully integrated gas- tight suits – EN Type 1 or OSHA Protection level B.

Where radioactive waste is involved, stand chemical suits will provide no protection against radiation. Specialist clothing is required. If, however, the need is to prevent contamination dusts that may be contaminated, garments certified to EN 1073-2 should be considered.


Hazardous Chemical Waste Guidance

Garments must be:

  • Made of fabric that can resist permeation of the specific chemical(s).
  • Of the correct construction. EN chemical protective clothing Types (Types 1 to 6) or OSHA protection levels provide guidance. For example, is the hazard dust, liquid or gas (bearing in mind many liquid chemicals may vaporize and behave like a gas)? Does the garment construction require sealed seams to prevent ingress through stitch holes? Is front zip fastening sufficient?


Inflammable or Explosive Waste Guidance

Three factors should be considered:

  • Many disposable and chemicals suits are synthetic materials and prone to static charge build-up. This can result in electrostatic discharge (ESD) that could ignite waste and cause a fire or explosion. Garments should at least meet the requirements of European standard EN 1149-5 which requires maximum surface resistance or minimum charge decay testing, to allow dissipation of any static build-up, and reduce the chance of ESD (such clothing also needs to allow a route to earth for the charge).
  • Is your chemical suit a fire hazard?
    If there is a fire or explosive reaction, standard chemical suits are made of polymers that will ignite and burn so may be a hazard. Suits of fabric that does not ignite should therefor be used.
  • Do you also need FR protection?
    Where there is a risk of fire or explosion workers should also wear suitable FR clothing such as Lakeland’s HPFR range of flame and heat protective workwear. If chemical protection is also required, standard chemical suits should not be worn as they are flammable. Pyrolon garments are engineered to avoid ignition and provide a range of effective chemical protection so can be safely worn over primary FR workwear without compromising protection.


Biological or Infectious Waste

Garments for managing waste that may contain biological contamination should be certified to European standard EN 14126 or meet the requirements of US test ASTM 1671-13, both of which measure resistance against penetration by infectious agents including blood borne pathogens. EN 14126 also requires certification to one of the EN chemical protective clothing types to ensure garment construction meets the performance required.


Unknown Hazards

In some cases, the exact nature or type of hazard might be uncertain. This could be the case when disposing of soil or waste from old chemical or manufacturing sites where knowledge of chemicals present is limited. Testing can identify the chemicals or hazards, but were there is uncertainty, choosing chemical suits with the broadest possible chemical resistance might be most appropriate.

ChemMax 3, ChemMax 4 Plus, and Interceptor are constructed of high barrier fabric providing protection against a wide range of chemicals.

Protect Your People From Hazardous Waste

Hazardous Waste FAQ

  • Where can hazardous waste be disposed?


  • What is the most appropriate way to handle hazardous waste?


  • What is hazardous waste?


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