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What is Hazardous & Toxic?

Common hazardous and toxic agents in cleaning products.

Many people don't realize it but there are a lot of common household items that are considered to be hazardous materials. These include medications, paint, motor oil, antifreeze, auto batteries, lawn care products, pest control products, drain cleaners, pool care products such as chlorine and acids, and household cleaners. Some household cleaners may be harmful separately or when combined such as ammonia and bleach. http://phoenix.gov/

The vast majority of chemical cleaners pose environmental, health and safety concerns to the air, water, animals, plants and humans. Pollution caused by chemical runoff has contaminated 40% of the nation’s waterways remain too polluted for fishing and swimming (Resource: www.epa.gov).


How can I know if a product contains “harmful chemicals”?


We have put together a priority list of common hazardous chemicals used in the home to help you out:

Household Hazardous Materials (Source: http://phoenix.gov/ )

A wide range of health effects are linked to materials used, depending on the substance, the dose, the duration of exposure, and the susceptibility of the person exposed. Many solvents affect the central nervous system and are skin and eye irritants. Most are flammable; many are linked to long-term adverse health effects such as liver damage. Several are known or suspected carcinogens such as benzene and toluene.

Dusts/fibers are eye and respiratory irritants, and may aggravate asthma and provoke allergies. Specific hazards: silica in clay dust causes lung disease over years of exposure; talc (white clays) may be contaminated with asbestos, a known carcinogen; some hardwood dusts lead to nasal and sinus cancers in woodworkers.

Heavy metals are hazardous both as dusts and as fumes. Lead affects the nerves, digestive system, muscles and joints. Arsenic, cadmium and chromium are known carcinogens. Mercury, copper, cobalt, silver, manganese, selenium and zinc are all acutely toxic.

Acids are corrosive to skin and eyes. Acid vapors are irritating to the lungs and inhalation of small amounts may damage lung tissue. Concentrated acids can react with many other materials. Gases generated from kilns, welding or sculpting with plastics are acutely toxic; some may lead to long-term lung damage with repeated exposure.


Basic Safety Rules

Know the hazards of the materials you're working with. Read the labels, request material safety data sheets (MSDS) on new products, know what precautions, safety gear and clean up procedures are advised.

Use the safest materials and procedures possible. Stay current on the new developments in your art or craft; safer, less-toxic alternatives are being devised for many activities.

Use good ventilation at all times. Local exhaust is the best, such as a hood or spray booth that vents to the outside. Next best is to use exhaust fans that pull the contaminated air away from you and exhaust it outside (an air-conditioning system is not adequate, since it recirculates most of the air). An open window usually does not provide adequate ventilation; toxins may be blown back into your face.

Use good hygiene and housekeeping. Separate work and living areas; avoid eating, drinking or smoking in the work area; don't store materials in food containers; and wash and change clothes after working. Wet mop or vacuum for cleanup of dusts.

Special precautions are needed for children's art. In general, children over the age of 12 can understand and consistently follow safety instructions for the more toxic materials; younger children cannot and should use only the safest materials.


Products Hazardous Ingredients Dangers Alternatives

Aerosol sprays butanol, butane, propanol flammable, irritant, explosive pump-type sprays, potpourri

Ammonia-based cleaners ammonia, ethanol irritant, toxic, corrosive (Forms poison gas when mixed with bleach.) vinegar, salt and water for surfaces and baking soda and water for the bathroom.

Antifreeze ethylene glycol toxic (especially to pets) unknown (use caution, take to a collection center)

Batteries sulfuric acid, lead corrosive, toxic unknown (use caution, recycle)

Brake fluid glycol ethers, heavy metals flammable, toxic unknown (take to a collection center)

Disinfectants diethylene glycol, sodium, hypochlorite, phenols corrosive, toxic 1/2 cup borax in 1 gallon of water

Drain opener sodium hypochlorite, sodium/potassium hydroxide corrosive, toxic plunger, flush w/boiling water, 1/4 cup baking soda

Flea repellant carbamates, organophosphate, pyrethrins toxic eucalyptus leaves where pet sleeps, brewer's yeast in diet

Floor/furniture polishes diethylene glycol, petroleum distillates, nitrobenzene flammable, toxic 1 part lemon juice w/2 parts olive or vegetable oil

Furniture stripper acetone, methyl ethyl ketone, toluene xylenes flammable, toxic sandpaper

Latex paint resins, glycol, ethers, esters flammable lime stone based white wash or casein based paint

Oil based paints ethylene, aliphathydro-carbons, petroleum distillates flammable, toxic latex or water based paints

Oven cleaner potassium, sodium hydroxide, ammonia, lye corrosive, toxic baking soda and water, salt on spills that are still warm

Photographic chemicals silver, acetic acid, ferrocyanide, hydro quinone corrosive, toxic, irritant unknown (use caution, take to collection center)

Pool chemicals muriatic acid, sodium hypochlorite algicide corrosive, toxic unknown (use caution, use until gone take to a collection center)

Rat and mouse killer lead arsenate, coumarins (warfarin) strychnine toxic remove food and water sources, clear harborage, cover holes and drains rats may enter, use mechanical traps. Get a cat.

Roach and ant killer organo-phosphates, carbamates toxic roaches: traps, boric acid. Ants: chili pepper/cream of tartar in ants' path

Rug and upholstery cleaners naphthalene, oxalic acid, diethylene glycol irritant, toxic, corrosive dry corn starch sprinkled on rug then vacumed up

Toilet bowl cleaner muriatic or oxalic paradi-chlorobenzene calcium hypochlorite irritant, toxic, corrosive toilet brush and baking soda; mild detergent

Thinners and turpentine n-butyl alcohol, isobutyl keytone, petroleum distillates flammable use water with water based paints

Transmission fluid hydrocarbons mineral spirits flammable, toxic unknown (take to a collection center)

Used oil hydrocarbons, (e.g. benzene) heavy metals flammable, toxic unknown (recycle) NOTE: It is illegal to dispose of oil on/in the ground.


Chlorine (Sodium hypochlorite)

In paper products, such as toilet paper and paper towels...

  • Bleaching paper products with chlorine bleach causes the formation of dioxin, an extremely toxic and persistent chemical known to cause cancer and disrupt the endocrine system.

  • Chlorine-free toilet paper and paper towels are available at many natural food stores. Additionally, newspaper can be used in place of paper towels for cleaning windows, and rags can be used for other surfaces.

In cleaning products... Many household cleaners contain chlorine bleach. Chlorine bleach, or sodium hypochlorite, is a lung and eye irritant.  If mixed with ammonia or acid-based cleaners (including vinegar), chlorine bleach releases toxic chloramine gas. Short-term exposure to this gas may cause mild asthmatic symptoms or more serious respiratory problems.
Washington Toxics Coalition)

  • To be on the safe side, don't mix chlorine bleach with anything -- or just avoid chlorine bleach altogether. The EPA recommends using a non-chlorine bleach such as hydrogen peroxide to bleach clothes.

Phosphates... Phosphates are minerals that act as water softeners. Although they are very effective cleaners, phosphates also act as fertilizers. When cleaning products go down the drain, phosphates are discharged into rivers, lakes, estuaries, and oceans. In lakes and rivers especially, phosphates cause a rapid growth of algae, resulting in pollution of the water. Many states have banned phosphates from household laundry detergents and some other cleaning products. Automatic dishwasher detergents are usually exempt from phosphate restrictions, and most major brands contain phosphates. Some phosphate-free alternatives are available and hand dishwashing liquids do not contain phosphates.
Washington Toxics Coalition)

Alkylphenols and their derivatives

Alkylphenol Ethoxylates are found in some laundry detergents, disinfecting cleaners, all-purpose cleaners, spot removers, hair colors and other hair-care products, and spermicides.
Washington Toxics Coalition)

  • Alkylphenol Ethoxylates are endocrine disruptors.
    WWF Canada)

  • Alkylphenols are produced in the environmental breakdown of alkylphenol ethoxylate surfactants, are slow to bio-degrade and have been shown to disrupt the endocrine systems of fish, birds, and mammals.
    WWF Canada)

Volatile organic compounds

Organic chemicals are widely used as ingredients in household products. All of these products can release pollutants while you are using them, and, to some degree, when they are stored.

  • EPA's Total Exposure Assessment Methodology (TEAM) studies found levels of about a dozen common organic pollutants to be 2 to 5 times higher inside homes than outside, regardless of whether the homes were located in rural or highly industrial areas.

  • Additional TEAM studies indicate that while people are using products containing organic chemicals, they can expose themselves and others to very high pollutant levels, and elevated concentrations can persist in the air long after the activity is completed.

  • Many organic compounds are known to cause cancer in animals; some are suspected of causing, or are known to cause, cancer in humans.

  • Some of the hazardous volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that frequently pollute indoor air -- such as toluene, styrene, xylenes, and trichloroethylene -- may be emitted from aerosol products, dry-cleaned clothing, paints, varnishes, glues, art supplies, cleaners, spot removers, floor waxes and polishes and air fresheners.
    (Source: Washington Toxics Coalition)

High levels of toluene can put pregnant woman at risk of having babies with neurological problems, retarded growth, and developmental problems. Xylenes may also cause birth defects.
(Source: Washington Toxics Coalition)


Trichloroethylene is one of the chemicals suspected of causing a cluster of childhood leukemia cases due to drinking water contamination in the town of Woburn, Massachusetts, in the early 1980s. The subsequent lawsuit against the polluting company was the subject of the 1995 book and 1998 film, A Civil Action.
(Source: Children's Health Environment Coalition)

Styrene is a suspected endocrine disruptor, a chemical that can interfere, block or mimic hormones in humans or animals.
(Source: Children's Health Environment Coalition)

  • VOCs such as xylene, ketones, and aldehydes are found in many aerosol products and air fresheners. Researchers found that babies less than six months old in homes where air fresheners are used on most days had 30 percent more ear infections than those exposed less than once a week.
    (Source: Washington Toxics Coalition)

  • Levels of formaldehyde in air as low as 0.1 ppm (0.1 part formaldehyde per million parts of air) can cause watery eyes, burning sensations in the eyes, nose and throat, stuffy nose, nausea, coughing, chest tightness, wheezing, skin rashes and allergic reactions.
    (Source: Children's Health Environment Coalition)

  • Babies frequently exposed to aerosols had a 22 percent increase in diarrhea, and pregnant women frequently exposed to these products had 25 percent more headaches and a 19 percent increase in postnatal depression compared to those less frequently exposed.

Source hazardous household cleaners: http://www.ems.org



Corrosive: A chemical, (solid, liquid or gas), that can cause destructive damage to body tissues at the site of contact. It can cause severe burns to the skin and can "eat through" clothing, metal and other materials.

Flammable: Can be ignited at almost any temperature. Spontaneously react with oxides.

Irritant: Causes soreness or inflammation of the skin, eyes, mucous membranes or respiratory system.

Oxidizer: An unstable chemical that can spontaneously react with flammables and releases oxygen.

Toxic: May cause injury or death upon ingestion (eating/drinking), absorption (touching) or inhalation (breathing into lungs).



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