There's are problems with the cleanup of hazardous waste: Far too often the solutions are not permanent.
Contaminated soil is excavated, loaded onto a truck and dumped in a landfill, for example. Incineration creates air pollution and hazardous ash. Some treatments merely dilute waste so that concentrations are low enough to be discharged into sewers or bodies of water.
These "solutions" still pose a threat to the environment. Permanent solutions are undeniably the goal of both government regulators and the industries that create (and are therefore liable for) most of the hazardous waste, but the direction of the research they sponsor leans too heavily toward the stopgap methods needed to comply with current laws.
Pure, open-ended research could yield the ultimate solutions to permanent hazardous waste disposal. That, at least, is the view of most researchers, who assert, however, that far too much of their own research and development time and money is still devoted to temporary solutions.
In many cases we are only "delaying the inevitable," says Dr. Daniel Watts of New Jersey Institute of Technology's Hazardous Substance Management Research Center (NJIT). Watts believes that regulations are influencing the direction of technology, and not always to the public's benefit.
Watts believes that pure research would find a way to separate the substances permanently and not just evolve interim disposal technologies as many research facilities are scurrying to do in order to satisfy industry and meet regulatory demands.
Grant Ferrier is editor of the Environmental Business Journal, San Diego, Calif.