Hazardous Materials Hazardous Materials
Shop “Less Toxic”
The products commonly used for the maintenance of our homes and offices can be hazardous and require special use, handling, and disposal requirements. There are also ways to avoid the use of many hazardous products altogether. Purchasing safer alternatives to hazardous products—or using non-chemical methods that accomplish the same goal—is the best way to make life safer for you and your family.
 less toxic
For example, one non-chemical alternative for cleaning drains would be a drain snake. Reducing use of hazardous products will also improve the quality of the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food we eat.

Chemical Product Purchasing Tips

  • First, read the label. A quick look at several products will help you find the safest product that will do the job. The section below tells you exactly what to look for.
  • Second, skip aerosol sprays. Aerosols cause air pollution, and pose disposal issues when empty. Choose solid or gel products, or pump sprays.
  • When considering a chemical product, ask yourself—will something else you already have do the job? Avoid “super” sizes and bundled products—buy only what you need. The few cents you might save are not worth the risk of storing unused hazardous products.

Reading Product Labels

The label should tell you what the product is for, how to use it, the risks you are exposed to, and what to do if you have an accident.

The most important time to read the label is before you buy a product. You are in the store looking for chemicals because you have a job to do at home. Maybe you have a drain that is backed up, or just need some window cleaner. How do you decide which of the many products on the shelf is best for you? Start by reading the labels.

What is this product for? Does it do just one job, or can I use it for several tasks? Are there any restrictions, such as "avoid using product around plastic, metal, or fabric"?

How do I use it? s the product ready-to-use, or do I mix it with water? How can I mix the product safely? How much will I need to do the job?

How hazardous is the product? Pesticides (includes disinfectants) have specific language that explains hazards to human health and the environment. Other kinds of products have certain required warnings but may also contain marketing claims designed to sell the product. Learn to find the key words and phrases that warn against product hazards.

What do I do if I have an accident? Does the label say what to do if the product contacts skin, or is inhaled or swallowed? Does the label give you enough information to prepare for and respond to these accidents?

Where possible, avoid products having labels that say any of the following: Signal Words: Look for the label signal word (Caution, Warning, Danger or Poison). Choose products labeled “Caution” over “Warning”; avoid products labeled “Danger”.

Choose products with label statements such as: non-toxic, non-carcinogenic, non- petroleum-based, free of ammonia, phosphates, dye or perfume, readily biodegradable, non-fuming and recyclable container.

Definitions:

Poison, Danger or Highly toxic – Swallowing a 1 teaspoon or less can kill a person.
Warning or Very toxic – Swallowing a 1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon can kill a person.
Caution or Toxic – Swallowing an ounce to a pint can kill a person.
Corrosive or Caustic – Contains chemicals that can blind you or burn your skin.
Flammable or Combustible – The product will burn easily, and may give off vapors that can ignite.
Explosive – the product or container could explode if mishandled.
Volatile or Contains VOCs – Contains volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) that evaporate and cause air pollution and potential health effects.
Proposition 65 (Prop. 65) – Contains chemicals that the State of California has determined will cause cancer or reproductive harm.
Provide Adequate Ventilation – Fresh air is needed to keep you from breathing harmful amounts of the product or to prevent explosion.
Contains Propane or Contents Under Pressure – These are aerosol containers, which cost more and have more risk than do the same products that are packaged in pump spray bottles.

Other clues that a product is toxic:

  • harmful or fatal if swallowed;
  • instructions that call for use of safety equipment;
  • warnings of environmental hazards (like toxic to bees, birds, and fish).

Instead, choose products with labels that say:

Non-Toxic - Touching, breathing, or accidentally drinking the product will not kill you (although you may get sick).
Biodegradable - Natural bacteria in the environment will convert the product into harmless chemicals.
Contains No Hazardous Ingredients - This phrase usually means that the product does not contain more than 1% of any single hazardous chemical or 0.1% of any single carcinogen.
Last updated: Tuesday, 12/22/2009

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