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Hazardous wastes - in your home.

Many people think of "hazardous wastes" as chemicals discarded by industries, businesses and hospitals. The truth is, hazardous wastes can also be found in your house, garage, workshop and garbage can.

Many common household products contain the same chemicals that constitute industrial hazardous wastes. Americans routinely keep aerosols, bleach, detergent cleaners, medicines, drain cleaners, pet sprays and shampoos, furniture stripper, waxes, disinfectants and batteries within easy reach on the shelves. Used motor oil and leftover paint thinner, oven cleaner, lawn care products, polish and insect sprays can be scrounged up in almost every household.

The chemicals in these "everyday" products are potentially harmful to humans, animals and the environment. Most people are aware of proper use restrictions, but sometimes they don't think about the need for proper storage and disposal.

Hazardous materials can come in gaseous, liquid, solid or semi-solid form. The degree of hazardous threat posed by a substance is determined by measuring its specific chemical characteristics. A substance is classified as hazardous if it exceeds a specific limit for one or more of these characteristics:

* How easily it catches fire (gasoline). These substances are classified as ignitable--having a flash point of less than 140 [degrees] Fahrenheit.

* How acidic or caustic it is (oven cleaner). These are classified as corrosive--having a pH less than 2 or greater than 12.5.

* The toxic levels of long-and short-term exposures to humans and animals from chemicals that leach (pesticides, antifreeze, waste motor oil and paint strippers). These are classified as toxic--sufficient quantities may pose a substantial threat to health or the environment

* How explosive or reactive it is with water, heat or pressure (aerosol cans), classified as reactive--explosives, unstable compounds, and compounds that react with water.

Improper use and storage of household chemicals may pose safety hazards: Some containers stored for long periods of time can deteriorate. Chemicals leaking from damaged containers create fire hazards and can sometimes cause eye and respiratory problems. Some chemicals can cause explosions if mixed together. Many household chemicals can poison children and animals if consumed.

Improper disposal can create environmental hazards. Household chemicals poured down the drain, thrown in the trash or dumped onto the ground can contaminate water supplies both above and below ground. Hazardous substances can drain into septic systems, killing the microorganisms needed to successfully operate the systems. Chemicals poured down a storm drain can end up traveling by surface waters to pollute streams and lakes.

Hazardous chemicals collected from households represent about one percent of the waste volume going into municipal landfills. Combined, it is a large quantity dispersed throughout the landfill. The eventual decomposition of hazardous substance containers can lead to the possibility of the contents being released into the soil and groundwater, contaminating the entire area.

Consumers are encouraged to buy only needed products in quantities that can be used up in a reasonable amount of time and to use alternatives or substitutes for hazardous household chemicals.

Households are "unregulated" generators of very small quantities of hazardous wastes. The ENR Hazardous Waste Research and Information Center (HWRIC) offers information and assistance to households and other generators of hazardous waste.

For more information on any aspect of hazardous materials and waste, contact HWRIC at One East Hazelwood Dr., Champaign, IL 61820, (217) 333-8940
COPYRIGHT 1994 Countryside Publications Ltd.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1994 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Date:Jan 1, 1994
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