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Toxic Waste Can Do Anything

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"A mop boy named Melvin Fyrd fell into a case full of toxic waste and became a hideously deformed creature of superhuman size and strength, he became... The Toxic Avenger, the first superhero from New Jersey! "

Toxic waste is... well, Exactly What It Says on the Tin. Poisonous, corrosive, and exposure to it in high doses or a long-term exposure to lower 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 Applied 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 poison; 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 Radiation-Induced Superpowers, as toxic and radioactive waste can and will be lumped together, and this may in fact be the very origin of the trope. Also related to Freak Lab Accident. When the waste itself becomes a living threat, see Muck Monster. See also Nuclear Mutant and Chemistry Can Do Anything.


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    Comic Books 
  • 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.
  • Batman: 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 
  • In Madballs, 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.
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles:
  • 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.

    Comic Strips 
  • Referenced in a Calvin and Hobbes comic when 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".

    Fan Fiction 
  • Stupor Heroics: Stella got her powers from licking a can of toxic waste on a dare. She was the only one of the five who did it who actually got powers, while the rest got a trip to the hospital. Both Lynn (who got her powers from the radiation of a fallen meteorite) and Lincoln (who missed out on said empowering thanks to having the runs from a bad dinner) are rather disturbed about this particular origin story.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Alligator II: The Mutation, the alligator gains its giant, mutated form after being exposed to toxic waste.
  • Eight Legged Freaks: Spiders consume toxic waste. Spiders develop a taste for humans and the 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.
  • Possibly in Grizzly Rage, about a bear relentlessly stalking the four teens who accidentally killed her cub; there's a scene tossed in featuring rusted toxic-waste barrels dumped in a lake, but the bear doesn't seem particularly mutated.
  • The Host (2006) 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 U.S. 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.
  • The 1984 movie Impulse 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 Killer Crocodile, the dumping of toxic waste in its swamp causes a crocodile to become unusually large and aggressive.
  • The Living Dead Girl (La Morte Vivante) takes this to even further extremes: it revives a human corpse that has been DEAD FOR TWO YEARS into a vampire-like ghoul.
  • 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.
  • In Prophecy, there is actually a specific chemical — mercury — instead of a generic 'waste', and unlike most films, it actually gives a little explanation for its effects: if ingested, it confuses the body into thinking it's 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 Syfy Channel Original Movie 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.
  • 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.
  • In 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.
  • Slugs 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.
  • The Italian superhero film They Call Me Jeeg has the petty thief and crook Enzo gain super-strength after jumping into the river Tiber to escape from police and accidentally breaking a barrel of radioactive waste that was thrown in there.
  • 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 Toxic Shark, toxic waste turns a 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.
  • In Undercover Kitty, a female cat drinks toxic waste and turns into a human.

  • In The Corpse of Charlie Rull, irradiated waste leaking into a swamp turns the drowned corpse of heart attack victim Charlie Rull in an unstoppable radioactive zombie.
  • The first Franny K. Stein book, Lunch Walks Among Us, has a Pumpkin-Crab Monster created when a boy unwittingly dumps unstable industrial waste into the same trash can where Franny has discarded her lunch of crab ravioli with pumpkin sauce and two other kids have disposed of chewing gum and old gym shoes.
  • In Slime (1988), the title Blob Monster is literally a batch of rejected PCB come to life.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In The Secret World of Alex Mack, Alex gains her powers after being splashed with toxic waste. Played with in that the waste was specifically from creating a top-secret chemical, rather than generic factory waste.

    Tabletop Games 
  • The Champions supplement Enemies recounts how 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 became Immune to Bullets, gained Super-Strength and became the supervillain Shamrock.

    Video Games 
  • 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.

    Web Animation 

  • Long Exposure: While investigating a fenced-off area of a nearby forest, Mitch and Jonas slip into some weird puddle. The next day, they develop powers and discover people in Hazmat Suits trying to clean the mess up.

    Western Animation 
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • In the Aqua Teen Hunger Force episode "Super Hero", Master Shake attempts to use this trope by dousing himself with toxic waste in order to become a superhero. The only thing it does is burn and mutate him horribly.
  • Lampshaded to Hell and back in Back at the Barnyard. In order to scare off potential buyers for the farm, the gang tries to scare off a family by pretending there's a toxic waste spill on the farm, and to demonstrate, they put Freddy and Peck in a costume to look like a mutated deer with laser eyes. They scare them off, but when Otis asks how they were able to get the effect of shooting lasers out of his eyes, Freddy reveals that he drank actual toxic waste. The show then cuts to an "Ask Dr. Pig" segment where Pig explains that toxic waste can't actually give you laser eyes, which he decides to demonstrate by drinking toxic waste himself, which turns him into a Hulking Out Pig monster that begins to attack the military. Then the show cuts again to an announcer once again saying that toxic waste will do neither of those things, demonstrating by once again drinking toxic waste, which eventually leads to him shrinking.
  • Batman: The Animated Series: In "Beware the Creeper", when Jack Ryder is making a report about the Joker's origin at a chemical plant, the Joker shows up and throws him into the chemical vat to "re-enact" the scene of that fateful night — only he didn't count on the chemicals mixed with the Joker Gas to turn him into the Creeper.
  • Captain Planet and the Planeteers: In "Trouble on the Half-Shell", the captain notes that on TV, toxic waste tends to make you super-powerful, but unfortunately, it's different in real life.
  • Neptunia from Darkwing Duck was mutated from a regular fish into a humanoid half-fish by a barrel of radioactive waste.
  • Earthworm Jim: Evil Jim is brought to life when a mangled photocopy of Jim's face is thrown away and exposed to a drip of "perfectly harmless stuff" at the dump.
  • Played with in the segment "Super Griffins" from the Family Guy episode "Family Guy Viewer Mail #1". 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 also rolls in nuclear waste... causing him to contract lymphoma.
  • Gravity Falls: Ford's portal in "Not What He Seems" is partly powered by toxic waste, which results in Stan stealing some from federal facilities and getting arrested.
  • The premise of Mutant League 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 who can suffer horrific damage without dying or being convalescent more than a few hours.
  • The eponymous family in The Oblongs live beneath the toxic waste produced from a bunch of factories and are mutated in odd ways, but still act more or less like everything was normal.
  • Total Drama: Season 4, titled Revenge of the Island, has Chris loaning out Camp Wawanakwa for use as a dumping site for toxic waste, causing much of the wildlife to become mutated. This also extends to humans with Dakota being overexposed to radiation from the toxic waste and undertaking a Hulk-like transformation.
  • Being a Saturday-Morning Cartoon version of the aforementioned The Toxic Avenger, Toxic Crusaders exaggerates this with toxic waste not only providing Toxie with his powers, but also 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 (!!).
  • Toxy from The Trash Pack is a case of the toxic waste itself being the monster. Being a Trashie made out of a poorly-disposed item, he's the most dangerous, being a living toxic waste barrel still filled with his contents. He has to be detained by the robo-haulers before he hurts anyone.