Some might find the bounty of hazardous waste containers in daily life a little surprising or even concerning. But, the fact of the matter is there are many industries that generate hazardous wastes and seeing HazMat drums here and there is commonplace. There are few better ways to illustrate the proliferation of HazMat barrels than in the media. TV shows, films and video games contain a preponderance of hazardous drums and viewers are so used to seeing them, we don’t think twice.
The use of barrels in video games is especially interesting. Whether they are being thrown at you by a giant ape or are merely in the background, barrels and drums can be spotted in almost every video game and gamers know exactly what to do with them. Obviously, if they are being hurled at you by Donkey Kong, you jump, but in other games they are usually used for one of three things: storage or discovery of items, cover from enemy fire, and/or as a weapon. HazMat drums are used for the latter.
While we don’t recommend or condone purposefully exploding a barrel of toxic waste in real life, it is a real handy trick in video games – and second-nature to all regular gamers. In the tutorial portion of a relatively new XBox game, Sunset Overdrive, a booming voice coaches new players on controls and tips for the game. When he points out the brightly painted HazMat drums littering the game’s world the player character interrupts with “Yeah, yeah, I know what to do,” and shoots a drum, causing an explosion. Accuracy aside, it’s a delightful entertaining and meta moment, and also a testament to the iconography of HazMat containers in media and their prevalence in day to day life.
All of that said, not all hazardous materials are combustible and not all HazMat containers will explode if hit with gunfire, but we still don’t recommend testing that every time you come across a drum.