Safety in and around the home is of utmost importance for every homeowner, notwithstanding the cost it may take to make the home a place of safety, privacy and comfort. It thus becomes important that we think about how we can make our homes safe amidst all the technological advances today. Having a general knowledge on what makes a certain item harmful is the essential cornerstone in improving safety conditions in our homes.
The sad fact among homeowners is the preconceived notion that hazardous waste materials can only be found in industrialized establishments such as factories and mines. These establishments are almost always depicted with harmful effluents, noxious fumes, and other byproducts of mass production that render the immediate surrounding relatively dangerous.
What majority of us do not know, and fail to realize, is that these same hazardous materials are a lot closer to us than we ever care to imagine. Just go through your weekend shopping bag or grocery items and you will definitely find something or two that contains a harmful chemical or material. Some of these harmful materials or product components have been carefully integrated into these commodities either to extend shelf life or just to enhance the overall appearance and quality of the product.
Here are a few simple tips for you to render your home relatively safe and free from hazardous waste materials.
In your Garage and or Workshop
Your garage is not only the shelter for your prized vehicle but also the repository of other valuables such as paints, thinners, cleaners, pesticides, artificial cleaners, motor oils, insecticides, and other chemicals. Most of the time, too, our garages are not adequately ventilated such that we are placed at an increased risk for respiratory problems.
· Paints can contain many different compounds such as pigments, binders, solvents and additives. In the past, most pigments in paints were composed of lead. But, because of its highly toxic nature, lead has since been replaced by less toxic pigments such as titanium dioxide. Titanium dioxide has been shown to be especially irritating to the skin and can sometimes lead to lung cancer among susceptible persons.
The binders in paints can be acrylics, polyurethanes, polyesters, epoxy, oils, and melamine resins, which, just recently, have been implicated in a major health scare that saw hundreds of very young children in China dying of kidney problems associated with melamine ingestion.
The solvents and additives in paint products have also been identified to pose certain risks to some populations primarily because of its effects on the brain.
Other paint products which can pose a significant threat to our health include gloss paints, white spirits, brush cleaners, turpentine, varnishes, paint strippers, and wood preservatives.
· According to a recent journal article people who change their own motor oil improperly dispose of approximately 250 million gallons of used motor oil every year. Because motor oils contain high levels of lead and hydrocarbons, used motor oil is considered highly toxic. When motor oil is improperly disposed of, it can destroy plants and wildlife and seep into and pollute the groundwater. Authorities have estimated that a single gallon of motor oil can pollute about a million gallons of drinking water.
· Pesticides and insecticides contain a variety of harmful chemicals, not only to its intended prey but to humans as well. Every year, about 300 million pounds of chemical insecticides and or pesticides are used in the US alone. Such chemicals contain highly toxic molecules as diazinon, chloropyrifos, propoxur, and methoxychlor.
Diazinon has been shown to produce acute complaints such as weakness, headaches, chest tightness, blurred vision, nonreactive pupils, increased salivation, sweating, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and slurring of speech. Chloropyrifos, propoxur, and methoxychlor have also been implicated in a variety of health complaints such as skin irritation, difficulty breathing, nausea and vomiting, and fainting spells.
· Other sources of hazardous waste materials from your garage include batteries, oil filters, anti freeze agents, brake fluids, engine additives, engine degreasers, concrete cleaners, old petrol, diesel, paraffin, wheel cleaners, and transmission fluid.
In your Bathroom
The medicine cabinet in our bathroom can be a life-saving fixture but it can also pose a significant threat to our safety. Not only that, cleaners and disinfectant agents are all potentially hazardous chemicals which can be found in the bathroom. Other hazardous items include alcohol based lotions such as shaving creams, aftershaves, and perfumes, depilatories, permanent lotions, hair relaxers, and nail polish.
· Prescription medications contain a great number of chemical compounds that are intended for human consumption to effect a desired outcome. The problem with these prescription medications is that they are intended for a specific type of person with a specific type of condition. The danger then lies in the ingestion of the medication by someone other than the person with which the medication was prescribed to. The result will be something that is entirely different from the intended person and can range from mild toxic effects to life threatening anaphylactic reactions.
In identifying which of your prescription medications can be potentially dangerous, you can consult your physician. Make sure also to label and keep your prescription medications absolutely out of reach of children. Should you discard your prescription medications, do not flush them down the drain because these could find their way into bodies of water where the damage will be greater.
· Cleaners used to clean the drain in your bathroom sink or the bathtub are composed of extremely dangerous chemicals. The lye, chlorine bleach, and or sulphuric and hydrochloric acid found in most of these chemical drain cleaners are extremely corrosive agents that they have been shown to produce chemical burns in humans. Furthermore, these chemicals can also enter the different bodies of water through the waste water stream. This spells some environmental concerns that need to be addressed.
In your Kitchen
The kitchen can house a wide variety of hazardous waste materials, not to mention the presence of other items that render it one of the riskiest places in the home. Ovens, gas stoves, refrigerators, cooking appliances, gas supply, and fire and smoke alarm systems can complicate matters in the kitchen.
· Empty aerosol cans readily explode because of the normally high temperatures in the kitchen compared to other parts of the house. This can become a significant source of fire and its related damage to property.
· Aluminum cleaners, ammonia-based cleaners, bug sprays, and insecticides have been identified to play a role in the development of various health complaints among at risk persons. Some of these health problems include cold-like symptoms such as runny nose, wheezing, nasal stuffiness, and difficulty of breathing.
· Other hazardous waste material from the kitchen include drain cleaners, floor care products, furniture polish, metal polishes with solvents, window cleaners, and lye based oven cleaners. Used matchsticks have also been cited in some incidents of skin and respiratory irritation especially among the very young.
In your Garden
The garden can be a source of significant relaxation especially during highly stressful times. However, it can also invariably yield a few hazardous waste material which can pose a significant threat to our health.
· Fertilizers contain a lot of chemicals, mostly organophosphates, which have been shown to produce a wide range of human complaints. These problems include respiratory to central nervous system problems especially in serious cases.
· Other items in the garden that can be hazardous include fungicides, herbicides, insecticides, rat poison, and weed killer agents. Although there are many kinds of fungicides, its effects on human health are the same as those in fertilizers, ranging from skin to respiratory to nervous to cardiovascular problems. Herbicides and insecticides also share similar effects on man.
Anywhere in your Home
Technically the home should be free from hazardous materials. However, because of technology and the ever-changing lifestyle we now have, many of the items we bring home inside our homes contain several chemicals that are detrimental to our health.
· Lighting fixtures like bulbs and tubes are considered hazardous because of the mixed materials they are composed of. Majority of these lighting fixtures are difficult to dispose of in an environmentally friendly way. Compact fluorescent lights, notwithstanding their high energy efficiency ratios, still contain a few of the chemicals needed to emit whit light which makes it hazardous to the environment and our health.
· The batteries we use to run our small appliances, electronic gadgets, toys, and other valuables are typically made up of zinc carbon. These chemicals, which also included zinc, manganese, lithium, nickel, cadmium, and mercury, are all heavy metals that are largely detrimental to the environment.
· Air fresheners are hazardous because they contain petroleum based chemicals and other ozone depleting compounds. Air fresheners work by “covering” or “masking” unwanted odors and as such they do come with excess packaging that contribute to their hazardous nature.
· Other potentially hazardous materials in our homes include dry cleaning solvents, fiberglass epoxy, lighter fluid, moth balls, old fire alarms, photographic chemicals, shoe polish, and swimming pool acid.
Our homes are filled with items that contain hazardous materials. It is up to our vigilance to identify and dispose of them properly so we can be safe in our homes.