When you care for yourself, your home, your yard and your garden you use a variety of chemical products. Many of these common household products contain hazardous chemicals. When we no longer want these products they become hazardous waste.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines four major types of hazardous waste.
- Corrosive wastes can cause a chemical action that eats away materials or living tissue. Battery acid is an example.
- Toxic wastes can cause illness or death. Some are more dangerous than others. Exposure to a small concentration of a highly toxic chemical may cause symptoms of poisoning. Pesticides, cleaning products, paints, photographic supplies and many art supplies are examples.
- Ignitable wastes can catch fire spontaneously or burn easily. Charcoal lighter fluid, gasoline, kerosene, nail polish remover and various oils are examples.
- Reactive wastes can react with air, water or other substances to cause rapid heating or explosions. Acids that heat up rapidly and spatter when mixed with water are examples.
EPA estimates that the average household disposes of 1 pound of hazardous waste each year. In North Carolina that means that 2,045,700 pounds of hazardous household wastes must be handled properly each year.
When is a product hazardous?
Most household products are not harmful if used according to label directions. However, they can become harmful if you use them improperly, store them improperly, or dispose of them improperly.
Why don't common disposal methods work for hazardous household waste?
Most people dispose of hazardous products by throwing them in the trash, pouring them down the drain, burning them, pouring them in a ditch, dumping them on a vacant lot or burying them in a field. These practices are dangerous.
Waste from hazardous household products can contaminate lakes, rivers, streams and the groundwater (the places below the ground where water accumulates before it goes to a river, stream or well). This can create serious problems for North Carolinians. Why? Because 55% of all residents and 97% of the state's rural residents rely on ground water as a source of drinking water. Often only a small amount of a hazardous material can cause serious problems. It only takes one gallon of oil to ruin one million gallons of water.
What shouldn't we do?
Don't throw it in the garbage.
Much of the residential trash in North Carolina is collected door-to-door by private companies or is taken to drop-off centers by individuals. Ultimately the trash is taken to a county landfill. Most landfills are not designed for hazardous household wastes. Hazardous waste can leak into water supplies or cause air pollution, or both.
Hazardous household waste may cause a fire, an explosion or give off dangerous fumes. Sanitation workers have been seriously burned, lost their eyesight or suffered lung damage while compacting hazardous materials. Equipment also has been damaged.
Improper use may cause toxic health effects such as headache, injury or death.