This is a tool for exploring transnational flows of hazardous waste. While many typically think the U.S. exports all of its most toxic waste to poorer countries, the U.S. actually imports much waste from these countries and other rich countries, for disposal and other kinds of processing. Many of these are transnational corporations shifting between subsidiaries.
We received the EPA hazardous waste records for HazMatMapper as 971 scanned PDFs of regulatory forms. Each PDF contained an average of seven manifests, or bundles of unique shipments. A shipment is a collection of waste containers made discrete by its United Nations waste type classification, the kind of container holding the waste, or the intended processing method. Each manifest recorded anywhere from 1-74―but most frequently only one―shipment(s) of waste. For instance, a manifest might contain three shipments, with the first shipment comprising four metal drums of flammable waste paint, the second comprising two metal drums of material containing mercury, and the third comprising three burlap bags of the same mercury-containing material. To assemble a spatial database of the shipments records, we first separated each manifest into unique shipments and then hand-coded each shipment with the common attributes included in the PDFs: exporter name, address (geocoded using the Bing Maps batch geocoding service), port of entry, importer name and address, waste type and container, and planned processing method. Click here to see a sample manifest. Over 118,000 containers of waste were imported into the U.S. between 2007 and 2012 as recorded by the nearly 10,000 manifests.
The United States has bilateral trade agreements with Mexico and Canada that allow transnational trading of hazardous waste. The United States is not allowed to import or export hazardous waste from or to countries it does not have similar trade agreements with because it is not a party of the Basel Convention, an international treaty regulating the hazardous waste trade.
Imports and exports are defined relative to the United States, e.g., selecting a U.S. site will show waste coming into the United States from Canada or Mexico, and selecting a Canadian or Mexican site will show waste being exported from Canada or Mexico into the U.S.
This is an artifact of the documents on which the map is based. Waste types are based on what was reported to the U.S. EPA, and have varying levels of detail. There may or may not be overlap; e.g., “corrosive liquids”, might include specific chemicals that are also listed in the breakdown of imports by type for a given site.
The EPA was only able to provide us manifests for 2010-2013 and already compiled data for 2007 and 2009. We are currently trying to access 2008 data through a Freedom of Information Act request.
We maintain the separation between solid and liquid waste in HazMatMapper given ambiguity in conversions between different hazardous materials. While this distinction is useful for analysis of the dataset, it does not reflect the regulatory definition of hazardous waste, which hinges on different notions of “solid” (40 USC. Sec 261.2. 2012).