Toxic waste is...well, Exactly What It Says on the Tin. Poisonous, corrosive, and exposure to it in high doses will often do you great harm, or kill you, or both.
That holds true in fiction... maybe 3/4 of the time. Otherwise, toxic waste serves as yet another form of Phlebotinum. When you don't want to use electricity, radiation, or tweaking something's DNA, just dump the issue you need into a pool of what is SUPPOSED to be deadly poisonous; whatever comes out will surely have more beneficial changes than negative.
Not the same as Toxic Phlebotinum (which is an actual power source, just dangerous to use), Super Serum, or Mutagenic Goo (which is something that might be actually and intentionally designed to cause changes). This applies when something that is nothing more than waste material that should just kill anything living instead makes it stronger. Often has a strong relationship to I Love Nuclear Power, as toxic and radioactive waste can and will be lumped together. Also related to Freak Lab Accident. When the waste itself becomes a living threat, see Muck Monster. See also Nuclear Nasty and Chemistry Can Do Anything.
- In the Madballs comic book published by Star Comics (a now defunct subsidiary of Marvel Comics), the Madballs came to be when eight ordinary rubber balls fell into and were mutated by a pond of toxic chemicals near the lab of their arch-enemy Dr. Viktor Frankenbeans. The toxic pond would also serve in creating their enemies the Badballs, Madbelle, the Vegeterribles, and Colonel Corn as well as the second series Madballs and the Super Madballs.
- Being accidentally tossed in a vat of chemicals is famously one of The Joker's most popular origins (though not the only one). One story lampshades that the vat in question was filled with an absurdly deadly concoction, and Mr J still came out with bleached skin, green hair, a damaged psyche, and absolutely no proper health problems — he is even a bit more athletic than his light frame would let you suppose, though that, at least, doesn't seem to have anything to do with the chemicals.note
- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
- If it's not explicitly presented as Mutagenic Goo, the 'ooze' that created the title characters is this: a garbage chemical mix on its way to be disposed that grants four turtle babies and a rat bipedal humanoid forms, sapience (at least in the Turtles' case; sometimes Splinter is suggested to have been far smarter than the average rat before mutation), enough physical gifts to be trained as master martial artists/weapon wielders, and in Donatello's case, near-genius level intelligence with mechanical devices. Not bad for a bunch of waste chemicals.note
- This fact makes a scene in the second live-action film, The Secret of the Ooze, strangely more poignant. Donatello is upset when he finds out the titular ooze's creation was just a mistake and that he had felt like that the truth would mean he and his family were "special". For being the smart one, he doesn't seem to realize that the fact that a bunch of chemical garbage instead of a purposely designed product made him and his family what they are makes them very special indeed.
- In The Ultraverse, Dirty Cop Frank Hoag is killed in an explosion that showers him in chemicals before his body is dumped in the sewers. The combination of the chemicals and the sewage cause him to transform into the monstrous Sludge.
- Rage from The Avengers and New Warriors. At age 13 Elvin Daryl Haliday was exposed to toxic waste after coming home from basketball practice. Returning to his grandmother's home, Elvin was nursed back to health. The chemicals caused Elvin's teenage body to grow into adulthood in a matter of weeks, but also endowed him with superhuman strength, speed, and stamina. Encouraged by his grandmother to use his newfound abilities for good, Elvin adopted a costume and name: Rage.
- Referenced in a Calvin and Hobbes comic where Calvin's dad gets him to eat his Mom's cooking by telling him that it is "toxic waste that will turn [him] into a mutant".
- The Toxic Avenger, of course. While it does make the titular character very ugly and the transformation is painful, it also grants him "superhuman size and strength" and once he has fully transformed, he seems quite capable of living a normal life with no side effects.
- In Alligator II: The Mutation, the alligator gained its giant, mutated form after being exposed to toxic waste.
- Skeeter, a 1993 horror film, does this with mosquitoes, turning them into basketball sized versions of themselves. This is extra strange as per their body design, the toxic waste should doubly kill them, by poison or by getting too big for their bodies to successfully breathe. Instead, they become the usual killing machines.
- Syfy network original horror film Shark Swarm has the villain dump toxic poisons into the water to specifically kill marine life (instead of just dumping random waste to get rid of it) to bankrupt someone. It kills fish and marine life...and instead of killing sharks, makes them hyper-aggressive and gives them a semi-Hive Mind, despite being both a fish and marine life.
- Toxic Shark has a similar premise, except the toxic waste turns the shark into a Poisonous Animal. It's not enough for it to be obsessively hunting humans anymore, it has to be lethal to the touch as well.
- Prophecy: There is actually a specific chemical instead of a generic 'waste': mercury, and unlike most films, it actually gives a little explanation for its effects: if ingested, it confuses the body into thinking its another, beneficial chemical, and exposure to it scrambles the genes of developing fetuses. While in the film this produces the expected birth defects among humans and animals, it also manages to produce a grizzly bear that's twice the size of a normal one, smarter than a normal one (it's quite willing to sit and wait outside a hole for people to emerge from), fully functioning beyond severe skin deformities, and viciously, demonically hostile.
- The Host: The movie uses this twice. First, a specific chemical, formaldehyde (known to being a carcinogen), creates a rhino sized fish/running monster that can move incredibly fast and shrugs off bullets. Secondly, the US government tries to kill it with another toxic chemical, Agent Yellow. It works...a little. It doesn't mutate the creature into a stronger form and it clearly doesn't like it, but it doesn't kill it or render it much less dangerous, forcing the main characters to Kill It with Fire and add some impaling on top of that.
- Eight Legged Freaks: Spiders consume toxic waste. Spiders get taste for human and ability to grow far beyond their maximum size. The very end of the movie shows that the stuff also makes Deputy William's bald patch grow some new hair. The film gets a little slack as it has a strong comedic bent and doesn't take itself too seriously.
- La Morte Vivante (i.e. The Living Dead Girl) takes this to even further extremes: it revives a human corpse that has been DEAD FOR TWO YEARS into a vampire-like ghoul.
- Sky High (2005): It's established that being dipped into a pool of toxic waste will either grant the person superpowers, if they're lucky, or kill them, if unlucky. In the epilogue, Will reveals that Ron Wilson, Bus Driver, was dipped into toxic waste, and is now a giant.
- Modern Problems: Max is given superpowers (specifically, telekinesis) when a toxic waste truck leaks all over his car while he was stuck in traffic behind it. To add to this, it crosses with Lightning Can Do Anything when a lightning bolt transfers his powers to someone else at film's end.
- Slugs (the movie version, at least) might have the most triumphant example: while all the other animal-into-monsters films listed here have animals that can be dangerous in and of themselves, Slugs has toxic waste turn slugs, slow tiny gastropods who at worst eat carrion or other small gastropods, into creatures that can kill and eat humans, and do so despite gaining no extra physical abilities.
- Impulse , 1984 film, has toxic waste leak into a local town's dairy supply. Unlike most examples, it (eventually) outright kills the townspeople who drink said tainted milk...but not before it drives everyone into fits of psychotic and sexual violence.
- In The Secret World of Alex Mack, Alex gains her powers after being splashed with toxic waste.
- Champions supplement Enemies. One day a truck carrying a load of toxic waste drove by Barney O'Tumey. One of the containers fell out of the truck, broke open and spilled toxic waste all over him. Barney gained the super powers of Super Strength and Immune to Bullets and became the supervillain Shamrock.
- Day of the Tentacle: The toxic goo dumped into the water by Dr. Fred's Sludge-o-Matic causes Purple Tentacle to grow arms and become an insane, evil genius.
- The Grossery Gang webseries reveals that a toxic leak in the poorly-maintained Yucky Mart convenience store is the reason that the Grosseries have come to life.
- Long Exposure: While investigating a fenced off area of a nearby forest, Mitch and Jonas slip into some weird puddle. Next day, they develop powers and discover people in hazmats suits trying to clean the mess up.
- Toxic waste from the Mushroom War is the cause for much of everything in Adventure Time, as all life on Earth has been mutated by it. Specific demonstrations include Shoko's sudden mutation into a huge monster immediately upon plunging herself into a river of the stuff and Farmworld Jake being turned into the Lich. As magic returned openly to the world post-war, it's also implied that nuclear waste somehow enhances it.
- Being a Saturday Morning Cartoon version of the aforementioned Toxic Avenger, Toxic Crusaders takes this Up to Eleven, with toxic waste not only providing Toxie with his powers, but perfectly fusing a man and a dog into a hybrid were-creature-like being (that being Junkyard; the rest of Toxie's companions were changed by exposure to radioactive materials), and then going even further by empowering a buried junked car(!) and a mop (!!).
- Played with in a "What If" episode of Family Guy. When a truck carrying nuclear waste crashes in front of the Griffin household, each family member is imbued with a different superpower, which they use to cause mayhem. To combat them, mayor Adam West rolls in toxic waste... causing him to contract lymphoma.
- The Oblongs deconstructs this. They lived beneath the toxic waste produced from a bunch of factories and were mutated in odd ways, but still acted more or less like everything was normal.
- The 1994 animated series Mutant League was produced as a tie-in to the video game by Electronic Arts. The premise of the show is that an earthquake ruptures the turf of a sports stadium, venting toxic gases from long-buried industrial waste. The athletes get dosed with this gas, which mutates them into ugly but superhuman creatures that can suffer horrific damage without dying or being convalescent more than a few hours.
- Neptunia from Darkwing Duck was mutated from a regular fish into a humanoid half-fish by a barrel of radioactive waste.
- The Amazing World of Gumball: In "The Crew", Gumball and Darwin try to artificially age themselves in a polluted lake but only succeed in Gumball developing telepathy and Darwin becoming magnetic.