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Garden Household Chemicals and Products Are a Big Contributor to Household Hazardous Waste

How many pounds of toxic garden household chemicals are you using in your yard every year to maintain that perfect lawn, spotless apples, fungus-free roses, or that little patch of garden vegetables and flowers?

If you are like most homeowners, the answer is far too many.

Have you considered the possible long-term costs to the environment and to the health of your family as a result of buying, storing, using, and disposing of all these containers of toxic garden chemicals?

Consider the many dead zones in our oceans and lakes (ex. Chesapeak Bay and Gulf of Mexico), the chemical contaminants in all of our bloodstreams (there are hudreds), the rise in the rates of autism, alzheimers, and cancer, and the growing damage to populations of aquatic species. Then think about all the chemical products you buy and apply to your lawn and garden.

Do you ever wonder about the far-reaching and long-term consequences of your household chemical usage? Residential chemical pollution continues to be a growing problem, so apparently most consumers are not concerned enough to change their habits.

But you can begin to change for the better by first learning what is in the various garden chemicals you use via the information found below. Then you can resolve to stop wasting your money and damaging your health and the environment by replacing store-bought hazardous chemical products with safer, non-toxic organic substitutes, or by practicing more sustainable organic gardening methods.

The Most Common Garden Household Chemicals


    Arsenic is a highly toxic, naturally occurring grayish-white element used as a poison in pesticides and herbicides. Arsenic is also found as an ingredient in pigments and wood preservatives. Arsenic contained in wolmanized lumber will not release toxic compounds unless burned. Some treated lumber contains Arsenic in the form of Copper Chromated Arsenate.
    more information about Arsenic


    Fertilizers are plant food supplements which commonly contain nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. The numbers on the fertilizer bag (e.g. 10-8-6) refer to the percentages by weight of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, respectively. In general, liquid and granular fertilizers used for house plants and in the garden have a low degree of toxicity unless ingested in large quantities. Single ingredient fertilizers such as ammonium nitrate or lime are more likely to be toxic or corrosive.

    Environmentally, overuse of fertilizers has resulted in contamination of surface water and groundwater. Excess nitrogen in drinking water (above 10 parts per million nitrate-nitrogen) can lead to methemoglobinemia (oxygen starvation or blue baby syndrome), especially in children under the age of one, elderly persons, and sensitive farm animals such as hogs. Excess phosphorus in the water will result in algae blooms, increased biological oxygen demand, and fish kills.
    more information about Fertilizer


    What is it?
    Total release foggers are commonly used to get rid of fleas, ticks, and roaches. Foggers may be used if your home becomes infested (full of), fleas, ticks, and roaches. How can your home get infested? Maybe you moved into an apartment and didn't know it already had lots of roaches. Or maybe some fleas jumped off your dog or cat while they were in the house. If you went away on vacation, or hadn't vacuumed for a long while, their eggs hatched producing more fleas! If you haven't heard the name "total release fogger," you have probably heard of this type of product being called "bombs" or "bug bombs." They got their name because once the product is started, it will keep spraying until the container is empty. There is no way to turn it off. They work releasing a gas spray that "fills the air" with pesticides. Because of these hazards always "Read the Label First" to know how to properly use these products and for safety information.

    What's in Foggers?
    The pesticide chemicals in foggers are pyrethrins, permethrin, and methoprene. These chemicals are known as insecticides.
    more information about FOGGERS


    Gasoline, a petroleum distillate product combined with various additives, is flammable and highly toxic. Leaded gasoline contains tetraethyl Lead, a highly toxic metal compound. Unleaded gasoline contains high octane components such as Benzene (a known human carcinogen), ethylene dichloride (a known animal carcinogen), and methanol (a highly toxic compound).

    Gasoline can be harmful to your health through skin contact, skin absorption, inhalation, or ingestion. The first symptoms of poisoning include flushing, slurred speech, staggering, and confusion. Overexposure may result in coma and death. Antioxidants added to keep gasoline from decomposing and forming resins can cause burns to skin and eyes.
    more information about GASOLINE



    ORGANOPHOSPHATES - carcinogenic in rats; teratogenic in chick embryos; affects nervous system; acutely toxic causing headache, dizziness; twitching, nausea
    CARBAMATES - Carcinogenic in rats; mutagenic; teratogenic in dogs and mice; and affects nervous system
    more information about INSECTICIDES


    As the name indicates, insect repellents deter mosquitoes, gnats, and other insects from biting and annoying the user. Common active ingredients in repellents include: Diethyl toluanide, Dimethyl phthlate, Ethyl hexanediol, Indalone, Di-n-propylisocinchoronate, Bicycloheptene dicarboximide, and Tetrahydro furaldehyde.

    The literature reports at least five cases of toxic exposures due to excessive skin absorption of diethyltoluamide (DEET), a common ingredient in twelve of the fifteen insect repellents examined by Consumers Union.

    Symptoms in all cases included loss of coordination, anxiety, behavioral changes, and mental confusion. Liver and kidney damage have been linked to indalone and ethyl hexanediol. Long-term skin application of indalone has caused liver and kidney damage in animals. Ethyl hexanediol may cause liver and kidney damage.

    Ingestion of large doses of insect repellent may cause loss of coordination, central nervous system depression, and possibly coma.
    more information about INSECT REPELLENT


    What is it?
    Insect sprays are used to get rid of ants, bees, flies, roaches, spiders, wasps and many other insects - even lice. Insect sprays are pesticides known as insecticides. There are many different kinds of insecticides. The kind to use depends on the type of insect and where you want to use it. Read the product label to find out.

    Not all insecticides can be used in your house. Some can only be used outside. Some can be used on your dog, cat or parakeet - even your pet goat if you have one. Others can only be used on things like bedding, rugs, lawns or plants.

    Insecticides used around your home usually come in the form of liquids, sprays or powders. Sometimes they are mixed with other products that are used around your house. Sometimes they are mixed with other pesticides. For example a fertilizer for your grass may have an insecticide in it. It could even have both an insecticide and a herbicide (weed killer) in it.

    What's in it?
    Examples of pesticide chemicals commonly found in insecticides are permethrin, diazinon, propoxur, and chlorpyrifos.
    more information about INSECT SPRAY


    Both kerosene and diesel fuel are flammable and are petroleum distillate products. Kerosene is used in lamps, domestic heaters or furnaces, jet engine fuel, and as a solvent for greases and pesticides. Diesel fuel has a higher boiling point than kerosene and is used to power diesel engines.

    Kerosene and diesel fuel can damage your health through inhalation, ingestion, and skin contact and absorption. The first symptoms of poisoning include confusion, restlessness, and tremors. Overexposure can lead to central nervous depression with symptoms of inebriation. This may be followed by nausea and headache and may eventually lead to coma and death.

    Aspiration of fluid into the lungs can occur during ingestion and vomiting. This may result in chemical pneumonia and lung lesions. Ingestion of kerosene is a special problem since it is frequently improperly stored in food containers (such as soda pop bottles) and then swallowed by children.
    more information about KEROSENE and DIESEL FUEL


    Motor oil is a petroleum distillate product composed of 75% mineral oil, 20% oxidation inhibitors and detergents, and 5% pour depressants and viscosity improvers.

    Used or waste motor oil is often contaminated with Lead outside the United States (from Gasoline), magnesium, copper, zinc, and other heavy metals which are picked up from the engine.

    Used motor oil can present a threat to health through skin contact, skin absorption, inhalation, or ingestion. Many of the problems associated with used motor oil are due to exposure to the heavy metals. These health problems are cumulative, so with each exposure to used motor oil the amount of heavy metals added to the body's system increases.

    Used motor oil poses a very serious threat to the environment when disposed of improperly. Just one gallon of motor oil can pollute one million gallons of water and can form an oil slick nearly 8 acres in size!
    more information about MOTOR OIL



    WARFARIN - Causes internal bleeding if ingested in large amounts; toxic to fish
    more information about RODENT KILLER


    What is it?
    Weed killers are pesticides that do what? Kill weeds! A weed is a plant that is seen as useless or harmful and growing where it is not wanted. For example, grass is not a weed if it is growing in your yard. It is a weed if it is growing in your flower or vegetable garden. Plants like crabgrass and dandelions are usually called weeds.

    Weeds grow quickly and are hardy plants. They can crowd out or cause other plants not to grow well. They can completely take over an entire garden or spread out in your lawn. There are many effective non-chemical ways to control weeds, such as using mulches such as pine needles or bark. Physical removal of weeds via hand or cultivation is also very effective in smaller scale areas.

    Weed killing pesticides come in different forms – sprays, powders, or mixed in with fertilizers. They are also known as herbicides. So how does a weed killing herbicide know what is a weed and what isn't? It doesn't. For example, a herbicide that is formulated or made to kill bushy weeds like poison ivy or poison oak, can also kill other plants, grasses and even trees. That's why it is important to always read the label first.

    What's in it?
    The common pesticides in weed killers are diquat, 2,4-D, and glyphosate.
    more information about WEED KILLER


    Automobile, boats, and tractor batteries are wet cell batteries which contain Lead and a solution of sulfuric acid. When activated, the electrolyte solution in the battery produces explosive gases which are easily ignited.

    Manufacturers of batteries containing sulfuric acid must use labels which warn consumers of the dangers from battery acid and accumulated gases.Sulfuric acid is extremely caustic. Fumes are strongly irritating, and contact can cause burning and charring of the skin; it is exceedingly dangerous to eyes. Lead is poisonous in all forms and accumulates in our bodies and in the environment.
    more information about WET CELL BATTERIES

Industrial manufacturing processes for these thousands of chemical products intended for application to your yard produces a massive air and water pollution problem in and of itself. When they are applied to lawns and gardens by homeowners, the chemical pollution problem becomes even more widespread.

With every rain or gust of wind these many potent chemical fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides create a toxic soup or breeze that can travel for many miles in the form of chemical run-off or airborne vapors. Chemical residues can persist for years in the soil and toxins enter our food and water where they are consumed by us and many other species.

This poisonous legacy kills or sickens many species of wildlife. The run-off from our yards alone is enough to contribute to high rates of death or birth defects in many species of fish, amphibians, and birds as it moves through local waterways, rivers, lakes, and estuaries on its way to the oceans.

For many years I worked in a major garden center where thousands of tons of garden chemicals were sold to local gardeners and farmers every year.

I know first-hand that many consumers do not realize what a huge problem garden household chemical pollution is. Most people never even read labels and have no conception of how toxic most lawn and garden chemicals really are.

Working in this one garden center made me accutely aware of the gross over-use and improper application of most household chemicals, especially where the garden is concerned.

I was often told by customers that potent orchard pesticides (like Dianzinon) were sprayed indoors for flea control, or heavily applied to dams or fields directly adjacent to bodies of water.

I was even told by several homeowners that they often applied Seven Dust (Carbaryl-7 garden pesticide) directly to their childrens' head in attempts to control fleas.

It is no surprise to me that most homeowners apply 10 times more pesticides per acre of lawn than farmers apply per acre of cropland, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

And according to the Beyond Pesticides Coalition, many of these potent lawn and garden chemicals many of us are over-using are possible or probable causes of cancer (such as Breast Cancer), neurological damage, birth defects, organ damage, or reproductive disorders.

Improperly stored containers of Pesticides in or around the home are also a leading cause of thousands of yearly childhood poisonings. These pesticide poisonings tend to result in death more so than most other types of childhood poisonings, according to the American Poison Control Centers. The most commonly used pesticides are listed below.

Garden Household Chemicals Also Classified as Pesticides

  • Flea and Tick Poisons (powders, sprays, pet collars)

  • Cockroach Bait or Spray

  • Weed Killers (such as Round-Up)

  • Indoor Insect Killing Sprays, Granules, or Powders (such as Wasp Killer or Ant Poison)

  • Personal Insect Repellents applied to the skin (such as OFF)

  • Animal Repellents (such as for deer, rabbit, or raccoons)

  • Rodent Poisons (such as mice or rat poisons or bait)

  • Termite Treatment Sprays and Control Products

  • Mold and Mildew Killers (such as shower sprays)

  • Swimming Pool Chemicals (such as Chlorine products or Algecide)

  • Disinfectants and Sanitizers (such as Chlorine Bleach or Triclosan in Anti-bacterial soaps

Garden Household Chemical and Pesticide Safety Tips

  1. Post the Poison Control Center phone number (1-800-222-1222) next to each phone inside and wherever you have household chemicals stored. AAPCC.org provides free decals and magnets with the number if you request them. If you ever do have to call, make sure to have the product container with you.

  2. Try to eliminate all pesticide use from in or around your home. Try organic methods of pest control, gardening and landscaping. Try removing pest habitat and food sources. Try to attract beneficial insects to your garden. Use companion planting and low-maintenance or native species of plants in your garden.

  3. What pesticides you can't eliminate should be stored out of reach of children. Lock chemicals in cabinets or use child-proof safety latches.

  4. Do not store pesticides in or adjacent to any living spaces to prevent any off-gasing of vapors to enter the home. Isolate chemical storage to properly ventilated garden sheds or storage buildings completely isolated from living spaces.

  5. Never apply Rat Poison and other Rodent repellents or pesticide baits where children can find it. Instances of children finding pieces of green Rat Poison and eating it is fairly common.

  6. Teach your children and other care-givers such as babysitters about the hazards of pesticides and other chemical poisons that may be in or around the home. Make sure children know never to touch or eat chemical products because they may be poisonous.

  7. Just because a container is "Child-Resistant" does not mean that it is "Child-Proof". Keep both child-proof and child-resistant containers properly closed and safely stored in locked or safety latched cabinets.

  8. Never transfer chemicals from their properly labeled containers and never remove labels from original containers. Many poisonings occur when someone confused pesticides as food or drink due to the container they had been transferred to.

  9. If you are interrupted while applying pesticide, make sure to properly close the container and store it in a child-proof area. Many child poisonings have occurred when children found open containers of pesticide left unattended.

  10. Keep pets, children, and any toys out of areas treated with pesticides, following the instructions to determine for how long the treated area must be isolated.

  11. Always follow application instructions and wear the proper protective clothing or personal protective equipment (such as rubber gloves) to limit your exposure. Be sure to remove contaminated clothing and PPE after application (including shoes) and keep it out of living spaces and store or discard it safely so that there is no chance of possible human or animal exposure. Wash your hands and shower after applications.

  12. If no specifics for protective clothing or equipment are stated on the pesticide container's label, it is still recommended you wear a minimum of: gloves, closed shoes, long pants, and long-sleeved shirts.

  13. Do not attempt to apply pesticides during windy weather or near clotheslines in use or near any bodies of water or sources of flowing water. Never apply chemicals near a well head or source of drinking water. Close windows and doors before applying pesticides outdoors.

  14. Never mix up batches of pesticide in confined spaces or using kitchen utensils that may get re-used for food or drink. Always follow instructions for mixing batches of pesticides, mixing only what you immediately intend to use up, and mixing in a well ventilated area outside.

  15. Do not mix pesticides stronger than is recommended on the label, and do not use the mixture for non-recommended purposes. Never smoke, eat, or drink while working with pesticides because residues may be transfered to your mouth, and some pesticides are also flammable.

  16. In the event of a small chemical spill, clean the spill up promptly, but do not try to wash the chemical away with water. Follow the instructions on the pesticide container for safe clean up and disposal.

  17. Do not spray pesticides on blooming plants where pollinators such as honey bees are present. Inspect tree branches for active bird nests before spraying pesticides. Use a course mist setting on your spray nozzle to reduce fine airborne vapor.

  18. Don't stockpile garden chemicals such as pesticides, and be sure to always keep them safely and securely stored far away from food, medical supplies, animal feed, and any possible sources of ignition.

I hope you will begin to reduce your toxic garden household chemical inventory and change how you vote with your dollars by reducing how much household chemical products you buy going forward.

Less consumption and sustainable organic gardening techniques will save you money, improve your health, and reduce environmental damage on several levels.

Replacing toxic lawn and garden chemicals with more effective and sustainable organic lawn and garden alternatives really is not as difficult as most people think.

Challenge yourself to get out of the quick chemical fix mentality. Try switching to composting for organic fertilizer. Use integrated pest management techniques such as using naturally insect repellent plants and beneficial insect attractors for a system of natural organic pest control. Replace resource intensive lawns with native plantings that require less maintenance or water.

By mastering these skills, you will take a big step toward eliminating most synthetic chemicals from your home and garden and you will be doing your part to stem the tide of damage to planet Earth and the billions of species that call her home.

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