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Impact Assessment: Hazardous Waste
Impact Assessment: Hazardous Waste
How do we calculate the rough cost of cleaning up a company's reported annual hazardous waste?
Written by Heather
Updated over a week ago

Hazardous Waste can come from industrial farming, many types of industrial production, automotive garages and waste sites, e-waste sites, water treatment systems, construction, laboratories, hospitals, and other industries. Hazardous waste can be liquid, solid, or sludge and may contain chemicals, heavy metals, radiation, pathogens, or other materials.

Hazardous waste can contain substances that can be bioaccumulative or toxic or all three characteristics together. It means that the chemicals do not break down in the environment for a very long time, are passed through the food chain, and can result in endocrine disruption, cancers, or other health effects on wildlife and humans.

Substances like mercury and lead are common hazardous wastes and so are chemicals like cyclodiene pesticides, which include dieldrin, heptachlor, and chlordane. Fire retardants (polybrominated diphenyl ethers) may result from the demolition of homes and buildings. Discarded electronic waste is very hazardous Such chemicals have been found in breastmilk and accumulated in the tissues of Arctic seals, penguins, and other wildlife.

The Hazardous Waste Impact Assessment takes the amount of hazardous waste reported by the company from its industrial operations last year, gives it a very rough cost estimate, and shows how many annual community college tuitions that would buy.

While the cost of a hazardous waste spill can vary wildly depending on the material that is spilled, how much was spilled, and the location of the spill, we did a bit of calling around to get some rough equivalencies.


We found a former EPA toxicologist, Tom Moses and founder of Spill Center online and after talking with friends at CERCLA and RCRA (the US EPA regulatory programs for this), they all agreed that 104 gallons are a plausible rough estimate for the average size of a hazardous waste spill in the US. Then we used $18,000 as the average amount of a hazardous waste cleanup from Tom's article (below). Tom has a database of over 3,000 cleanup contractors who do this kind of work.

This gave us the typical spill amount of 104 gallons and the average cost of clean-up for a spill like this of $18,000.

Step 1: Convert the company's reported tonnes to gallons

Step 2: Divide that amount by the size of the average spill as estimated by Spill Center

Step 3: Multiply that amount by the average cost of a hazardous waste cleanup of that size


  1. Not all clean-ups will cost $18,000 in fact that is just a rough estimate of how high a cleanup fee could be in some cases.

  2. Not all spills will be of that size. In fact, companies might have anything from a small localized paint spill to a tipping rail car of waste. All of that has to be reported though.

  3. Companies often amortize cleanup fees and have a myriad of ways to lower their costs associated with the type of thing in daily operations.

  4. This is all just a very rough calculation and meant for contextual purposes only. This is not meant to be taken as a workup of the materiality of the reported company's hazardous waste.

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