"Wonders of Modern Science" or Household Hazardous Waste?
Household Products Don't Have to be Hazardous to Your Health!
Household Products in vast quantities is something most homes have in common. Our humble abodes are like nasty little chemical repositories and are filled with household products containing many of the same hazardous waste chemicals (ex. Benzene) typical to most of the nations Superfund hazardous waste sites.
Just imagine the toxic soup of pesticides, petrochemicals, detergents, solvents, Lead, Mercury, Acetone, Formaldehyde, Benzene, Asbestos, Gasoline, Arsenic, and Ammonia (just to name a few) which was leached from the homes, businesses, factories, and refineries in New Orleans after Katrina turned the city into one big poisonous tea bag.
Our Hurricane Katrina Aftermath page will give you a better idea of just how much toxic waste is found in our homes and within our cities by showing what was flushed from New Orleans and what the EPA is finding in its city-wide soil, water, and air tests.
Those murcky putrid waters were iridescent for a reason. But where did all of that rainbow water go and will the longterm effects to humans and other animals be?
Though the government has downplayed the effects, I suspect the true magnitude of that chemical flush will become evident years down the road once epideological statistics prove increased rates of cancer, ect due to these toxins entering the food chain in that region. That will be the belated lesson. The immediate leason, besides the humanitarian and political ones, was splashed across our Television screens as the toxicity of our homes was illustrated on a large never-before-seen aqueous scale. Who could help not thinking about the chemical residues of man's footprint on the land following the events of Hurricane Katrina? The same household products now poisoning Lake Pontchartrain and the Gulf of Mexico are our calling cards and daily houseguests!
There's no doubt that one of the Hallmarks of the human species is how we have mastered the manipulation of our environments using synthetic chemicals. This is nowhere more obvious than in the typical home. But there is a cost to having all these household products in our homes!
It's a good bet that most homes have a wide selection of these potential sources of household hazardous waste. In addition to there ability to contribute to water pollution, many of their chemical ingredients are likely to contribute to poor indoor air quality due to off gasing of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) or Semi-Volatile Organic Compounds (SVOC). Some of these household products also contain dangerous ingredients which are flammable, corrosive, or can represent acute or chronic inhalation hazards for the user. You won't believe what's in some of these household products!
Some common household products include: paints, paint strippers, and other volatile solvents; wood preservatives; aerosol sprays; cleansers and disinfectants; moth repellents and air fresheners; stored fuels and automotive household products; hobby supplies; dry-cleaned clothing. If you are a homeowner, homemaker club or organization, daycare provider, housekeeping business person, family and consumer science educator, or a pesticide operator you need to know about identifying hazardous household cleaning products, the safe use of potentially hazardous household chemicals, volatile organic compounds (VOCs) or volatile solvents found in these household hazardous waste containing chemical products, and pesticides.
INDOOR AIR QUALITY
Indoor Air Quality can be impacted by some chemicals used for personal
care and grooming, for hobbies, or to clean, protect, maintain, and decorate
the home and its furnishings. Household products can release volatile compounds and hazardous chemicals into the air
during use, as the household product dries or cures, or as the household product ages.
Examples of household products and household chemicals that could contain chemicals that may be absorbed, ingested, or inhaled include:
CONTROL INDOOR AIR QUALITY
Begin to control home Indoor Air Quality by the choice of household chemicals
and household products used. Use the least amount of a household cleaner or other household product to get the job done.
Read labels, follow safety precautions, and contact the manufacturer if
you have questions. Other guidelines include:
Do not use a potentially hazardous chemical unless absolutely necessary
Use household chemicals and household products only for their intended purpose
Always use household products according to manufacturer's directions
Choose household product packaging that reduces the chance of spills and leaks, and
is childproof if children live or visit in the home
Keep household products in original containers so safety information and
directions for use are with the household product
Always use household products in well-ventilated areas
- Purchase only the best air purifier that has effective HEPA filtration and gas-phase filtration in order to reduce the smallest and most damaging of indoor air pollutants such as Volatile Organic Chemicals (VOCs).
REDUCE NEED FOR HOUSEHOLD CHEMICALS
Reduce the need for potentially hazardous household chemicals by practicing
Clean spills and stains quickly
Remove food wastes promptly
Control excess moisture, for example:
- Prevent standing water, such as from air conditioner
drains or refrigerator drip pans
- Fix leaks, drips, and seepage problems
- Use exhaust fans during high moisture activities
Make your own safe products! Here's an extensive guide to making your own non-toxic Home-made Household Products!
LIMIT USE OF AEROSOLS
Limit the use of aerosol household products where possible. Aerosol household products tend
to release more chemicals into the air because they disperse the household product
into very tiny, airborne droplets. As an alternative, some household products are
available in a pump spray which makes it easier to direct the household product toward
its intended use, and therefore releases fewer chemicals into the air.
MIXING HOUSEHOLD PRODUCTS CAUTION
No matter what the household chemical, never mix household products
or chemicals together, unless specifically instructed.
If household products are mixed, additional toxic chemicals may be released into
the air through chemical reaction. A common example is ammonia and chlorine
bleach, which are found in many household cleaners. When mixed, they react
to form a toxic gas.
VOLATILE ORGANIC COMPOUNDS (VOCS)
Some chemicals used in the home contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs) or semi-volatile organic
VOCs are Organic Solvents that easily evaporate into the air. Volatile Organic Chemicals can
be toxic and harmful to the environment. Many household products containing VOCs
can be dangerous or flammable, especially if used improperly.
Water-based household products tend to be less hazardous to indoor air than household products
that are based on organic solvents.
VOC LABEL TERMS
Examples of household product label terms that identify a Volatile Organic Compound include:
HOUSEHOLD PRODUCTS WITH VOCS
Examples of household products that usually contain VOCs include:
Wood cleaners and waxes
paints and paint thinners
Wood finishes, such as varnish, shellac, stain, and oil
Glues and adhesives
Dry-cleaning fluid and spot removers
Leather care household products
Deodorizers and air fresheners
HEALTH CONCERNS OF VOCS
VOCs may be toxic household products under certain conditions! Short-term exposure
Long-term or high levels of VOC exposure can cause permanent damage to
various parts of the body, such as the lungs, kidneys, liver, and nervous
Itchy, burning, or teary eyes
Nose, throat, or lung irritation
Nausea or headache
Dizziness or lightheadedness
VOCS - REDUCING EXPOSURE
During household activities, reduce exposure to VOCs by:
Choosing household products with reduced amounts of VOCs, such as water-based or
Choosing low-VOC emitting household products, where available
Following all safety precautions on the label for using VOC- or Solvent-based Household Products
VOCS - SAFETY PRECAUTIONS DURING USE
When possible, use VOC household products outdoors where compounds are more widely
dispersed. Provide plenty of ventilation and fresh air if VOC household products
must be used indoors. If indoor use of VOC household products is required, schedule
activities for a time when the weather is mild so doors and windows can
be opened for ventilation.
When using Volatile Organic Compound household products, take regular breaks for fresh air and be alert
for possible reactions to the chemicals. Use protective gloves and glasses
when using VOC household products. A respirator with an appropriate cartridge is
recommended for prolonged use of Volatile Orgainc Compound household products, especially when working
indoors. Keep VOC household product containers tightly closed to minimize evaporation.
Keep children and pets away from VOC household products. Also, pregnant women
and those who are chronically ill should avoid VOC products.
VOCS - HOUSEHOLD PRODUCT SAFETY
Treat VOC- or solvent-based household products with caution:
Purchase only the needed amount of the household VOC product so there is none leftover
to store (most containers are not completely vapor-proof)
Carefully read labels of VOC household products and follow use and safety precautions
(keep VOC household product in its original container so it is always properly labeled)
Dispose of leftover or used VOC household products according to guidelines for potentially
hazardous household waste -- call a community waste authority for assistance (treat
empty VOC containers, applicators, and contaminated clothes in the same
manner as the leftover household product)
MATERIAL SAFETY DATA SHEET (MSDS)
You can learn more information about a potentially hazardous household
product by requesting a copy of the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS).
The MSDS contains complete information about a household product, including all safety
precautions. Request the MSDS by calling the manufacturer. The household product
label usually has phone numbers or you can visit our extensive Household Product Manufacturers Directory for contacts to the 354 household product manufacturers and which of OVER 6,000 household products each company manufactures. We will continue to add MSDS information for some of the most commonly used and most toxic household products.
PESTICIDES ARE POISONS
Another type of household product, pesticides, are poison; they are
used to kill or repel.
Examples of pesticides are:
Disinfectants, such as to kill bacteria
Fungicides, such as to kill mold
Herbicides, such as weed killers
Insecticides, such as to kill ants or cockroaches
Rodenticides, such as to kill mice
PESTICIDES: GUIDELINES FOR SAFE USE
Pesticides can be especially dangerous household products and they require strict
adherence to safety practices. Use pesticides only as directed by the household product
Many of the same guidelines we discussed earlier for the safe use of
household chemicals, especially VOCs, also apply to pesticides. In addition,
though, pesticides require other special precautions:
Never use a pesticide in the house unless it is labeled as being safe for
Give careful attention to the length of time you should be out of a room
after using a pesticide
Ventilate a space after pesticide use
Avoid using pesticides in the yard or around the house on a windy day,
as the pesticide may drift into the house
CARPET AS A CHEMICAL "SINK"
Carpets and other textiles in the home can act as a "sink" for airborne
pollutants. Chemicals sprayed or evaporated can collect in carpet, upholstery,
and other textiles. Clean and maintain the carpet regularly, especially
if there are young children in the home.
Protect carpet and textile surfaces when household hazardous products
such as VOCs or pesticides are being used.
ARE "NATURAL" HOUSEHOLD PRODUCTS LESS POLLUTING?
Some products for household use are considered as alternatives to "harsh
chemicals," and are labeled as "natural" or "environmentally safe." Some
of these household products are considered generic, such as chlorine bleach, ammonia, and boric acid.
Many of these alternative household products may seem safer; therefore,
people sometimes ignore directions for safe usage.
Any household product that evaporates into the air has the potential to be
an indoor air pollutant. The conditions for harm depend on:
Quantity used, repetition of use
Method of use
Toxicity of household product
Sensitivity of user
USING "ALTERNATIVE" HOUSEHOLD PRODUCTS
When selecting "natural" or "alternative" household products for the home, consider:
Is the alternative household product as effective, easy to use, and convenient?
Will the household product be safe to use for the intended purpose?
Are there directions for use and safety information?
Is the household product in safe packaging?
The unsafe use of many common
household products can cause many undesirable health effects. To protect
yourself and your family, read on.
Q: What are some of the household products I should be aware
A: Solvents, Paints, Paint Strippers,
wood preservatives, aerosol sprays, moth repellents, air fresheners, stored
fuels, automotive household products, hobby supplies, pesticides and some household cleaning products
Q: What are the particular ingredients in these household
products that I should be concerned about?
A: The household products to watch for are those
containing volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are organic solvents
that easily evaporate into the air. Some may be flammable.
Following are some of the compounds listed on household product labels: petroleum
distillates, mineral spirits, chlorinated solvents, carbon tetrachloride,
methylene chloride, trichloroethane, toluene and formaldehyde. Other household
product ingredients can also be a hazard if they are used improperly.
Q: What are some of the health effects?
A: Short-term effects include eye,
nose and throat irritation, and headaches. Long-term exposure can cause
loss of coordination; nausea; and damage to liver, kidneys and the central
nervous system. Some organics can cause cancer in animals and are suspected
of causing cancer in humans.
Q: What are some ways I can minimize potential
Q: Are there ways I can reduce my need for these household
First, read the labels of household products you are considering buying. Note the household
product's ingredients and beware of any warnings of its use.
Always use household products only for their intended purpose and according
to the manufacturer's instructions.
Use the household product in a well-ventilated area.
Choose household products that are packaged to reduce the chance of spills, leaks
and child tampering.
Keep household products in their original containers so that safety information
and directions for use are always with the household product.
A: Yes, by practicing preventative
You might consider using "natural" or "alternative" household products, but these household
products also have pollution potential if not used correctly. Household products
may be labeled "environmentally safe," but any household product that evaporates
into the air has the potential to be an indoor air pollutant, depending
on the quantity used, the method of use, the household product's toxicity and the
sensitivity of the user.
Quickly attend to spills and stains.
Remove food wastes promptly.
Control excess moisture (such as standing water from air conditioner drains
or refrigerator drip pans) and fix leaks, drips and seepage problems.
Q: Where can I get more information about safe
A: Contact your local Extension Office
or your state department of health. Take action now.
Should You Be
Do you have these household products in your home?
Bleach, rat poison, mothballs, charcoal lighter fluid, oven cleaner, batteries,
mercury thermometers, gas, oil, wood polish, toilet and drain cleaners, shoe
polish, bug spray?
Household products like these are
dangerous for your children!
In 2000, nearly 20,000 children were
exposed to or poisoned by household chlorine bleach.
Household products are called hazardous if they
can cause harm when not used the right way. Not every household product is a hazardous household product and
some are more dangerous than others.
You can use most household products safely if you follow
the directions on the label. Doing things that are not on the label is risky
for your health and your family’s. People get in trouble by using too much
of a household product, or by mixing two household products together, for example.
Children can be poisoned if household products are stored
or thrown away unsafely. Children’s bodies are small, so even a little bit
of some chemicals can cause big problems.
Eating or drinking a hazardous household chemical product is
dangerous, of course. Also, just touching or breathing some household products— even
a very small amount of them— can be harmful. They can burn your skin or
eyes just by touching them. Some household hazardous products like many household cleaners can make you sick if they
get into your body through the skin or when you breathe in their dust or fumes.
Sometimes you know right away if you or your
child has come into contact with a household hazardous waste product. You may feel sick to your
stomach or dizzy. Your skin may itch or burn. Your eyes may water or hurt.
Other problems don’t show up until later,
like cancer or harm to your lungs. Also, being exposed to chemicals can affect
a child’s growing body.
You can protect your children and yourself from
illness and injury. Use household hazardous products safely. Successful household hazardous waste management
involves storing a houshold cleaning product or other potential household hazardous substance carefully.
Dispose of them properly. The following will help you learn more!
In Case of
You can reach your local Poison
Control by calling (800) 222-1222 from anywhere in the country. Put this number
next to all of your telephones and where you store your hazardous household
Questions to ask?
Do you store hazardous household products
- Read the label. That is one of the most
important steps in using household products.
- Look for words like CAUTION, WARNING,
FLAMMABLE, HARMFUL, DANGER, POISON. These can tell you a household product contains
a hazardous material. If you see these words on a label, be extra careful.
- Look for special instructions on the label
such as: “work in well ventilated area.” This means work outside or
with the windows open. The fumes can make you sick if you do not have enough
- Wear “protective clothing.” This
means wear goggles, safety glasses, gloves, long sleeves, or other coverings.
The right clothing can prevent burns or keep the hazardous chemical from going into your
body through the skin.
- Never mix household products unless the label says it
is safe to do it. For example, never mix household cleaning products containing chlorine bleach
with household cleaning products containing ammonia. You will make a deadly gas by mixing these
- Keep children and pets away from the area
while you use the hazardous household product.
- Always put the cap back on and put away the household
product right after you finish using it.
- Never leave the household product or container where
children can see it or reach it.
- Don’t eat, drink, or smoke when using a
hazardous household product.
- Be ready in case there’s an accident:
Put the Poison Control Center telephone
number, (800) 222-1222, where you can find it quickly in case of an emergency.
Tape it to the wall by your kitchen phone, for example.
- Buy Syrup of Ipecac at your local
drugstore and keep it handy. This medicine makes a person throw up. But only
use it when a doctor or Poison Control Center tells you to. Sometimes throwing
up makes the poisoning worse.
Can you cut down on the hazardous
household products in your house?
- Do you buy only what you need, so you
don’t have extras.
- Prevent or reduce pest problems so you
don’t need chemicals to kill them. Wash dishes and wipe counters often.
Keep the garbage area tidy.
- If you’re pregnant, don’t use
hazardous household products if something else will do the job.
- Think about using tools or household products known to
be safe: use a plunger to unclog sinks instead of chemicals. Clean with baking
soda (for scrubbing) or vinegar (for cutting grease).
- Make your own! Here's an extensive guide to making your own non-toxic Home-made Household Products!
Do you store hazardous household products such as a houshold cleaning product
- Keep them away from children. A locked,
secure place is best.
- Store them in the package, can or bottle
they came in. Never put them in another container (especially one for food or
drink)! This helps prevent poisoning and keeps the label instructions with the household
- Keep containers and packages dry. Close them
- Set containers inside a plastic bucket in
case of leaks.
- Store household products at least 150 feet away from
your well, cistern or water pump. This will protect your water supply and your
- Keep household products away from heat, sparks or
- Store batteries and flammable chemicals like
gasoline in the shade, away from direct sunlight.
How do you get rid of leftover household
- Share the extra with someone who will use it
- Take leftovers to a community hazardous
waste collection point. Ask your local or state health department where this
- Some household products— like pesticides
—are very hazardous. You will even need to be careful how you dispose of
the container. The label will tell you what to do.
- Never dump or burn household hazardous waste
products on your property. Dumping or burning household hazardous waste products near a water supply is very
- Never burn household hazardous wastes in a barrel or
stove. Burning may let off toxic gases and make hazardous chemical ash and smoke. And,
it’s against the law in many states.
- Recycle used motor oil or antifreeze. Many
communities have places for you to do this.
- Mercury is a threat to health. Some household hazardous waste products
that have mercury in them are fluorescent bulbs, thermometers, thermostats, and
blood pressure monitors. Call your local trash department or local health
department to find out where you can recycle household products with mercury.
Here are some ways to protect you
- Buy only what you need to do the job.
- Use household products known to be safe when possible.
- Read and follow directions on household product
- Post the Poison Control Center telephone
number next to the phone.
- Never mix two household products together unless you
are certain it is safe to do so.
- Never mix bleach and ammonia.
- Keep all hazardous household products, including a household cleaning product such as
bleach, in a cabinet out of reach of children.
- Buy household products in childproof containers.
- Keep hazardous household products in their original
- Give my leftover household products to someone else to
- Find out about my community’s hazardous
waste collection points.
- Recycle household products that you can — oil,
antifreeze, household hazardous waste products with mercury.
- Never burn or dump leftover household hazardous waste products or
containers on the ground.
When in Doubt,
Check it Out
Visit our extensive Household Product Manufacturer Directory with contacts to the 354 companies and which of over 6,000 specific products they each make.
Visit our famous Household Chemical Encyclopedia which lists over 100 common household products, their toxic components, and how to safely use, dispose of, or replace them.
Call your local Poison Control Center (800)
Call your local Cooperative Extension office
Call your local or state health department
Call the Consumer Products Safety Commission:
Contact Healthy Indoor Air for America’s
Homes: (406) 994-3451
The Home* A* Syst handbook gives more details
about this and other healthy home topics. (608) 262- 0024
EPA's Consumer Labeling Initiative
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