Chemical hazards are not limited to industrial facilities. There are often dangerous chemicals in every home. They may be found in garage or work areas in the form of pesticides, old lead car batteries, oil and gasoline, or paints and solvents. They may be found under the kitchen or bathroom sinks in the form of cleansers or drain openers, or stored elsewhere in the home. A leak or spill of these chemicals can pose a health hazard, especially, if a lack of ventilation causes the level of chemical fumes to rise to unhealthful levels. Remember that firefighters and emergency responders have to take special precautions and wear protective equipment (respirators and eye protection) when dealing with chemical fumes in confined spaces. Your home or work area is no different. Incompatible chemicals may also mix together and create toxic fumes, or even start a fire.
Take some time to determine what chemical hazards are present in the home. Make sure that they are out of the reach of children, and that incompatible chemicals are not stored next to each other. Make sure containers are not leaking and that they are sealed.
It doesn't help to just throw these household hazards into the garbage to be landfilled where they can leak into the groundwater. These unwanted household products with dangerous chemicals are called household hazardous wastes. Many communities have developed programs to keep these household hazardous wastes out of landfills. Used oil can be recycled or otherwise disposed of safely. Paints can be similarly recycled.
Household hazardous wastes are sometimes disposed of improperly by individuals pouring wastes down the drain, on the ground, into storm sewers, or putting them out with the trash. The dangers of such disposal methods may not be immediately obvious, but certain types of household hazardous waste have the potential to cause physical injury to sanitation workers; contaminate septic tanks or wastewater treatment systems if poured down drains or toilets; and they present hazards to children and pets if left around the house.
To find out how to safely dispose of household hazardous wastes in your community, call 1-800-CLEANUP, or go to www.1800CLEANUP.org for information. The web site allows a search by zip code for household hazardous waste recycling centers and other useful environmentally friendly information.