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What are common hazardous wastes in the home?


Types of Common Hazardous Wastes in the Home

As we've seen, there are a number of products that are classified as household hazardous waste (HHW). Everything from the pesticide you use to keep your yard mosquito-free to the old cans of oven cleaner sitting half-used in the cabinet under your kitchen sink all pose various risks to your health and the environment.

The stuff that goes into your car to keep it running is commonly toxic. The oil that keeps the engine running picks up heavy metals during use and exposure to used oil can cause brain damage. Antifreeze ingestion can also damage the brain and lead to kidney failure. Lead-acid car batteries contain about 18 pounds (8.1 kilograms) of lead and a gallon (3.8 liters) of acid, both of which are hazardous materials.

Chemicals used around the garden also tend to be fairly toxic, especially anything that ends in "-cide." Pesticides, fungicides and herbicides are all designed to kill smaller organisms, but the lethal ingredients found in them can cause acute injury and death in humans as well. Fungicides may also be unapparent in products; they're commonly used in treated wood to prevent rotting, for example.

Keeping your house clean often calls for toxic chemicals that eventually become hazardous waste. Some, like mildew removers and products containing bleach, are obviously hazardous. Others, like spot removers, may seem less dangerous. Spot removers used on carpeting commonly contain the active ingredient perchlorethylene. Breathing this chemical can cause memory loss, liver failure and cancer -- all things you want to avoid when keeping your house tidy.

Even seemingly innocuous products can become toxic when mishandled. Modern latex paint is also considered generally safe, especially compared to its lead-based predecessors, but can contain additives like fungicides or toxic thickening agents. Plastic products release toxic fumes when burned, for example. So incinerating an old herbicide container is a doubly bad idea; you can look forward to inhaling fumes from both the herbicide and the melted plastic.

But, of course, you're a smart person. You know not to incinerate plastic, but do you know what to do with used engine oil? Find out how to properly dispose of HHW on the next page.


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