Household hazardous wastes, while toxic in nature, are not regulated under federal or state laws. In the average home fifteen pounds of toxic waste are generated each year. Included are such items as pesticides, auto batteries, gasoline, kerosene, metal polish with solvent, paint brush cleaners with solvent, solvent-based glue, paint, paint thinner, paint stripper, varnish, turpentine, wood preservative, adhesives, flea powder, rat poison, mothballs, photography chemicals, drain cleaners, floor and furniture polish containing nitrobenzene, pool chemicals, mercury batteries, lighter fluid, fluorescent lamps, and more.
In the outdoor environment, toxic materials can be harmful. When we throw them in the trash, they end up in the public landfill or incinerator. Buried in the landfill, toxic substances pollute the soil and eventually find their way into the water supply. Burned, they immediately pollute the air. When poured down the drain, any residual materials that cannot be broken down by water treatment plants will end up in nearby lakes, streams and rivers.
Homes using septic systems rather than public sewers similarly risk soil and water resources. Storm drains are perhaps the most dangerous dumping site of all; untreated materials go directly into nearby ecosystems, harming wildlife, plant life and drinking water.
When you must buy a hazardous substance for a specific purpose, buy only the amount you need, so that you can use it up. And if you have any left over, dispose of it properly. The most ecological way to approach toxins is to avoid them in the first place. Repeated or excessive contact with toxic household material can lead to lung, brain and nerve damage, and, in some cases, can even prove to be deadly, e.g., methylene chloride, an ingredient found in some aerosols, can cause nerve damage and cancer.
To avoid the dangers of hazardous substances, buy safe, effective alternatives whenever you can. Here are some examples: applications of boric acid can provide substantial control of cockroaches and fleas; vinegar cuts through mildew, stains and wax; baking soda cleans, deodorizes, polishes, removes stains and softens fabrics; borax disinfects, deodorizes, removes stains and softens water. There are also new, as well as time-proven, environmentally sound products on the market.
Procedures for the collection of hazardous wastes vary widely across the country. Some communities have special pick-up days; others have designated areas at recycling centers where wastes must be transported by the homeowner; others, unfortunately, have no systematic procedures. Call your local public works department to determine the operative procedures in your community. Best of all, avoid needless waste.
Act today on this EcoAlert, and thank you for your environmental responsibility.
American P.I.E., Public Information on the Environment, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization, P.O. Box 676, Northfield, MN 55057-0676 Telephone: 1-800-320-APIE(2743); fax 507-645-5724
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