Pollution control - hazardous substances
Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH)
employers to control the exposure to hazardous substances to limit
The regulations cover assessing risks,
implementing measures needed to control exposure and establish
good working practices.
Hazardous substances include:
- substances used directly in work activities
(for example adhesives, paints, cleaning agents);
- substances generated during work activities
(for example fumes from soldering and welding);
- naturally occurring substances
(for example grain dust);
- biological agents such as bacteria and other
For further information visit the
Health and Safety Executive
Transportation of hazardous waste
What is hazardous waste?
Hazardous wastes are any solid or liquid material that may cause
harm to person or environment if not disposed of correctly. The
following are examples of hazardous waste:
- DIY products
- flammable liquids
- garden chemicals
- household cleaning products
General advice to householders for disposing of
- Disposal must be in a way that avoids harming the environment
or causing harm to human health.
- Never dispose of household hazardous waste (e.g. pesticides or
creosote) down sinks, drains, lavatories, watercourses, ditches,
near wildlife habitats or near ponds.
- Products for disposal should not be mixed together, and
containers should be clearly labelled.
- When transporting hazardous waste, make sure it is properly
sealed so that no leakage is possible.
For more information read Pollution
control - asbestos.
Ionising radiation is the energy produced from the
disintegration of natural and man-made radioactive materials.
It is present everywhere in the environment from naturally
occurring radioactive minerals.
Radon gas is emitted from certain rocks and from radioactive
material in our food and drink. We are also exposed to natural
ionising radiation that comes from outer space and passes through
the atmosphere of the planet – so-called 'cosmic radiation'.
There are three main sources of man-made ionising radiation.
Firstly in medicinal uses e.g. for treating cancer and for the
diagnosis of many diseases. Secondly, radioactive materials
are found in industry, primarily for measurement purposes and
for producing electricity. Both medical and industrial uses of
radiation produce radioactive waste. Thirdly, it is present as
fallout from previous nuclear weapon explosions and other
Exposure of the UK population to man-made ionising radiation
from medical and industrial activity is closely controlled and the
estimation of all exposures, whether from natural or man-made
radioactive sources, is undertaken by the HPA (Health and
Protection Agency). These estimates show that, on average, doses
from industrial activity plus weapons fallout are a very small part
of the total (less than 1%), doses from medical practices are
greater (about 14%) and the remainder (about 85%) comes from
natural sources. Similar figures are seen in other developed
The damaging effects of ionising radiation come from the
emission of pulses of energy that are released from radioactive
material. There are three main forms of radiation - alpha, beta and
gamma radiation. Of the three types, alpha is most easily absorbed,
but if ingested is most dangerous - and gamma radiation is the most
penetrating. Although different types of ionising radiation have
different patterns of energy release and penetrating power there is
no general property that makes man-made ionising radiation
different and more damaging than the ionising radiation that comes
from natural radioactive material. This means that we can make
direct comparisons between doses from man-made sources of ionising
radiation and those from natural sources.
Finally it is important to know that the radiations in the
environment that come from sunlight, power-lines, electrical
equipment and mobile phone systems do not have enough energy to
produce these ionisations. Therefore, they are called non-ionising
Radon and its monitoring
Probably the most common radioactive material that most
people will come into contact with is Radon gas. It is present
everywhere in the environment and can be found in very
high concentrations in certain parts of the country particularly in
Cornwall and Devon. Kent has some elevated areas at or above the
Government's action level of 200 becquerels.
For more advice and a full explanation on Radon matters visit
the Health Protection Agency
Of great interest these days are the possible health effects
from modern appliances such as mobile phones, sun beds and
microwave ovens. All three utilise different types of
electromagnetic radiation for their operation.
One of the most important types is microwave radiation, as we
use that to cook our food and for our mobile communications. The
principal cause of health effects from microwaves can be deduced if
we just think about how we use our microwave oven. We use it to
heat things, and indeed if we are exposed to microwaves at a high
enough level, then the cells and organs in our body will be subject
to a temperature increase.
The heating effect arises as follows. The human body is composed
of molecules that, when subject to the effects of electromagnetic
radiation, are made to vibrate. Bearing in mind that a typical
microwave frequency is 2,400 MHz (2,400,00,00 Hz), the rate of
vibration is very rapid, and generates a lot of friction within the
area of the body being irradiated, and hence heat. The effect is
rather like rubbing your hands together to warm them up.
Biological effects that arise from heating in this way tend to
occur at electromagnetic radiation power levels of 10 milli-Watts
per square centimetre or greater. To put this in context, we need
to note that a Watt is a unit of power, equal to a joule per
second. It is therefore a measure of energy input per unit time. To
put this further into context, consider heating 1 kg of water in a
kettle. To raise the temperature of this water by one degree
Celsius requires 4,200 joules of energy. The human body has a
cross-sectional area of about 9,000 square centimetres. So a
whole-body exposure at 10 milli-Watts per square centimetre equates
to about 90 Watts, or joules per second, of irradiation. At this
rate of power radiation, the water in the kettle would need about
50 seconds of exposure to raise the temperature by one degree
Celsius. Not a particularly high power rate, then, when compared
with conventional heat sources.
Note that it is possible to induce biological effects from
electromagnetic radiation that are not thermal in origin. These
arise for power densities lower than 10 milli-Watts per square
centimetre. The mechanisms by which these arise are not well
understood. However, they are clearly important for exposures at
low levels of electromagnetic radiation, such as from using cell
phones and other communication devices.
Mobile phone radiation
This is a contentious and ongoing issue. In 2000 the Stewart
Report was commissioned by the Government and looked into the
potential health concerns of the use of mobile phones. Stewart
attempted to provide a balanced view but concluded that there is
still insufficient evidence to limit or restrict the use of mobile
phones. This remains the official Government view.
Mobile phones emit microwaves at a power density several
orders of magnitude below the limit of 10 milli-Watts per square
centimetre. If there are any health effects from
using mobile phones, they don't come under the
category of heating effects.
The arguments about whether mobile phone use has associated
risks is a difficult one. In general, there are three sides to
stories such as this. These are:
- The manufacturers, who will (for obvious reasons) play down any
possibility of harmful effects from their products.
- Campaign groups, among whom there may be members who have
suffered a loss that is believed to be attributable to cell phone
- Regulatory authorities, who have to be very careful about
giving undue weight to one side or the other, and who very often
take a neutral stance.
However, at very low levels of radiation exposure, the risks are
sufficiently small that the probability that they will lead to a
health effect - over a person's lifetime - are also very small. In
other words, low level ionising radiation may not be enough to kill
you. It may just be that exposure to cell phone radiation does
indeed lead to an increased probability of a health effect, but the
probability is sufficiently small that an individual is more likely
than not to feel no ill effects over a life time.
The same is likely to apply in studies of mobile phone
radiation. The effects that a particular patient may exhibit may be
difficult to attribute to any particular cause, because of the lack
of knowledge about the other exposures that the patient may have
Finally, it is worth stating that there are very few beneficial
activities in life that do not engender some form of risk to the
individual. Driving our cars is one such risk that we take. We know
that there is some small risk that we might not complete our
journeys, because we may be involved in a fatal crash along the
way. Nevertheless, we don't stop driving because of this. Maybe a
similar line of thinking should apply to the use of cell phones.
The ability to have contact at all times with our families and
business colleagues is undoubtedly a good thing. Maybe the small
risk of a health effect is worth it - just as the risk is worth it
to drive on the roads in order to get where we want to go
These can be considered in a similar manner to mobile phones.
For more information visit the Mobile Operators Association
website. To check whether there is a mast near you, visit
the Ofcom website
and click on the map.