Chemicals serve important functions in our daily lives. In fact, it’s hard to imagine life without them. However, when chemicals are used improperly they can be hazardous. Learning how to properly use, store, and dispose of these products can help you avoid unnecessary injury and illness and protect the environment.
Purchase and Use
Many adults and children suffer unintentional injury, poison, or death when they do not follow label instructions or attempt to mix different substances.
It is important to make informed decisions about the type of chemicals that you use. Read the packaging to make sure you know exactly what you’re using. The following are a few common terms and definitions found on labels:
Indicates the lowest level of potential harm. It means that the product is not likely to produce permanent damage as a Result of exposure, if appropriate first aid is given.
Indicates a higher level of potential harm than Caution, meaning that you could become seriously ill or harmed. It is also used to identify products that can easily catch on fire. These products are required by law to be placed in child resistant packaging.
Indicates the highest level of potential harm. Accidental exposure to the eye or skin could produce tissue damage, and swallowing the product could produce damage to the mouth, throat, and stomach, or even death. Danger is also used if the material could explode if exposed to an open flame. These products are required by law to be placed in child resistant packaging. You may also find a skull-and-crossbones symbol along with words “Danger-Poison” on certain pesticide products, which means the product is a systemic poison.
· Toxic or Poison:
Can cause injury or death if swallowed, inhaled, ingested, or absorbed through the skin. Effects can be immediate (acute) or delayed (chronic).
Easily catches on fire and tends to burn rapidly. Avoid ignition sources, even remote ones, as vapors may travel or concentrate.
The chemical or its vapor can cause severe burns on contact.
Causes soreness or inflammation of the skin, eyes, mucous membranes, or respiratory system.
Contains unstable compounds that may react with air, water, or other chemicals. Reactive chemicals should not be mixed unless directed, and use caution.
Other tips to consider:
Buy only the amount you need; select the least toxic items available; and use multi-purpose products whenever possible. These measures help to minimize the need for storage or disposal of excess material. As an extra safety measure, select products with child resistant packaging. When using solvents, proper protective equipment is a must. Also, make sure the area that you are working in is properly ventilated, and never smoke while using solvents, glues, and flammable mastics. Other types of chemicals can pose dangers, especially to children. These include household products such as mouthwash, nail polish remover, perfumes and other personal hygiene products, as well as mothballs, automotive fluids, etc.
Always keep chemicals in their original containers, locked, and secured. At home, household chemicals should be stored away from children and separate from food and other household substances. Also avoid exposure to extreme heat or cold, as many products can be affected by temperature.
Periodically clean out storage cabinets and safely dispose of outdated and unneeded chemicals. Carefully follow the disposal instructions indicated on the label. Never pour hazardous wastes into a storm drain, onto the ground, into a body of water, or down the drain as it may result in health or environmental problems. Also, check with your municipality to see if they offer a chemical disposal, recycling or reuse program.
In the Event of an Emergency
If you suspect poisoning from a chemical, call the nationwide Poison Control Center (PCC) toll free number, (800) 222-1222, which will automatically connect you to the nearest PCC. PCCs are staffed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week by a pharmacist and registered nurses and maintain information on recommended treatment for the ingestion of household products and medicines.
For other types of chemical emergencies, keep phone numbers for Police and Fire departments near the phone.
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