Hazardous materials safety and alternatives

Hazardous materials are defined as solids, liquids, or gases that can harm people, other living organisms, property or the environment, often subject to chemical regulations.

Products are considered hazardous if they have one or more of the following properties: flammable/combustible, explosive/reactive, corrosive, and toxic, said Kathy Frank, Program Assistant/County Public Information Officer for Marinette County Emergency Management.

You may not realize that many products you use in your home are considered hazardous materials by law, Frank said.

Some of them are obvious, such as the propane tank on a gas grill. You use it to start a fire, therefore, it’s flammable.

Since it is pressurized, it has the potential to explode. Other items may require some label reading to determine what the hazard is and how to protect yourself and your family.

Words to look for are Danger, Poison, Warning or Caution

Other information on the label will help ensure you are buying the right product for the job and the right amount for your needs.

These two steps will save you money as well as prevent you from having to dispose of hazardous materials, Frank said in a statement.

The label will also tell you how to use and store the product safely, first aid instructions, and phone numbers to call for help or more information.

A public safety message from the Marinette County Emergency Management Department and Local Emergency Planning Committee said household hazardous materials typically include:

– Automotive products: gasoline, motor oil and other fluids, car wax and cleaners, lead-acid batteries.

– Household cleaners: furniture polish and wax, drain opener, oven cleaner, tub and tile and toilet bowl cleaners, spot remover, bleach, ammonia.

– Home improvement products: paint, varnish, stain, paint thinner and stripper, caulk and adhesives.

– Pesticide: weed killer, flea collars, mothballs, insecticide and insect repellant, disinfectant, wood preservative.

– Household batteries, cosmetics, pool chemicals, shoe polish, lighter fluid, prescription medicines, arts and crafts materials.

Do not rely entirely on the word “nontoxic” on the label, Frank warned.

It may simply mean that there is not enough quantity of a hazardous ingredient to cause an acute reaction.

Read the entire label for additional health warnings. Do not mix substances. Bleach mixed with ammonia or any acid, such as vinegar and lemon juice, can cause noxious gases to be formed.

Keep hazardous products out of reach of small children and pets during use and when stored.

Close lids/caps securely and store in locked cabinets or cabinets with childproof latches. Do not store next to food items.

If your home has a septic system, be cautious of using petrochemical based cleaners, bleach, and anti-bacterial soaps as they kill the bacteria that break down the solids, which could result in septic system backup or failure.

Consider safer alternatives. Many of these non-hazardous products are in your home already and many are cheaper than store-bought. They also reduce the environmental harm caused by the manufacture, use and disposal of toxic substances.

– Baking soda: cleans, deodorizes, softens water, scours.

– Lemon: effective against household bacteria.

– Borax: (sodium borate) cleans, deodorizes, disinfects, softens water, cleans wallpaper, painted walls and floors.

– White vinegar: deodorizes, disinfects, cuts grease, removes hard water (lime) deposits, mildew, some stains, and wax build-up.

– Cornstarch: clean windows, polish furniture, remove grease stains, clean carpets, rugs and pets.

A search on the internet will turn up numerous ideas and recipes for using these products and others to clean your home, Frank said.

Here is an easy one for furniture polish to get you started:

For unvarnished wood: Combine one cup olive oil (cheap works just as well as expensive) with one-half cup lemon juice in a bowl or squeeze bottle. Use a clean cloth to rub a small amount of the polish into your furniture. Wipe dry with another cloth. You can increase or decrease the recipe by keeping the same 2-to-1 ratio of oil to lemon juice. (frugalliving.about.com/)

“While the above items are safer alternatives you should still use basic safety precautions when using them such as don’t mix homemade cleaners with store-bought cleaners, ventilate the work area, keep out of reach of children and pets, and be sure to label the containers so you know what’s in them,” Frank said.