Hazardous Materials in the Home
Even though we may not realize it, most American families have become dependent upon the daily use of chemical products in our homes. Many of these chemical products require special handling, storage, and disposal. We depend upon these products because they are quick and easy to use.
Dangers from chemicals depend greatly on the individuals using them. Chemicals are safe to use when people read the directions and use them correctly. Chemicals play an important role in our health, economy, and social lives by providing us with better medicines and foods, creating jobs, and making our living environment more comfortable.
When people assume they know how to deal with a chemical or they just do not follow the directions, injuries, illness, and even death can occur. Our homes can sometimes be more dangerous than a laboratory because people ignore safety measures.
Americans have about half a million different products containing chemicals available for use in our homes. Most people use chemicals safely everyday without incident, but as the number of chemical products increases, the rate of improper use and injury also increases.
You may not believe your home generates enough household hazardous waste to cause a problem, but when you combine it with the waste from all the other homes in your community, you can begin to understand how household hazardous products can pose a danger to your health and the environment.
Solids - typically keep their own shape. Solids can be found as large chunks, crystals, or powder. Scented carpet powders and rat poison are examples of solids found in the home.
Liquids - take on the shape of the container and when released or spilled will run everywhere. Bleach, antifreeze, and gasoline are examples of liquids found around the home.
Gases - spread out to fill any container they occupy. Gases are all around us and constantly moving. Natural gas and propane are examples of gases used in the home.
The majority of chemicals found in and around your home can be grouped into 3 main groups: flammable, corrosive, poison/toxic. It is important to remember that some chemicals can fit into more than one group at a time. A chemical could be both flammable and corrosive.
Flammable - a chemical that easily ignites or catches on fire.
Corrosive - a chemical that can burn or destroy the skin.
Poison/Toxic - a chemical that can hurt our body by causing injury, illness, or death.
Almost any substance in a large enough amount can be poisonous/toxic.
Chemicals can enter your body in a combination of ways. There are four main ways chemicals enter your body. The first two ways are through: swallowing or eating, and touching or direct contact with the skin.
Swallowing or eating (ingestion)
The swallowing of household hazardous materials is the number one cause of childhood poisonings. Many adults eat chemicals accidentally by touching food products without first washing their hands.
Touching or direct contact with the skin (absorption)
Some chemicals seep into the skin quickly while others enter through open wounds. Different parts of your body soak up chemicals more quickly than others. Chemicals can damage tender areas of skin, such as the groin area or stomach, more readily than tougher areas like your hands and feet. Your eyes are extremely sensitive to chemicals. Chemicals can seep into the bloodstream rapidly through contact with the eyes.
The second two ways chemicals enter the body are through: puncture of the skin, and breathing into the lungs.
Puncture of the skin (injection)
Needle pricks from syringes are most commonly thought of when talking about punctures, however, pieces of glass or metal objects can also poke through the skin. Punctures are of great concern because they allow the chemical to immediately enter the bloodstream.
Breathing into the lungs (inhalation)
Breathing is the most common way of bringing chemicals into the body, and it is also the easiest to prevent. The danger from breathing chemicals is sometimes a difficult thing to understand because we cannot see or smell many of the chemicals that are most harmful to us.
Example: spraying pesticides without using appropriate respiratory protection.
Chemicals you use may affect the body both immediately and over long periods of time.
A brief contact with a large amount of a chemical can result in immediate or short-term effects. These effects are also referred to as acute. Signs and symptoms may include shortness of breath, chest pain, sweating, nausea, coughing, and salivation.
Contact with small amounts of a chemical over long periods of time can result in long-term effects. These effects are also referred to as chronic. These effects are usually not noticed for years after contact began, but can lead to serious health problems. Health problems resulting from chronic or long-term effects include: cancer, respiratory illness, nervous system disorders, and reproductive disorders.
Note: Some people may react violently to certain chemicals with a life-threatening allergic reaction including: chest pains, vomiting, and trouble breathing. In an allergic reaction, our bodies are telling us we are in severe danger. These people should seek medical attention immediately, by calling 9-1-1 or your local Emergency Medical Services.
Sometimes, even when you are careful, accidents occur.
The product's label is very important to medical professionals during an accident with household hazardous materials. Most labels instruct you to call your local Emergency Medical Services (EMS), family physician or a Poison Control Center in case of an emergency. Whoever you decide to call, you will need to have the product's container in order to provide information they will request such as the chemical name, manufacturer, and first aid instructions. Some other things that may come in handy during an emergency are:
Memorize and post Poison Control Center 1-800-222-1222 number next to a phone
Be trained in first aid and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR)
Have syrup of ipecac, in case advised to induce vomiting