Many common household products have hazardous ingredients that can be harmful to people and the critters living in our fragile waterways. We all live downstream from someone else, so being Stream Smart means understanding the possible environmental threats of the products we buy.
If you live near a storm drain, remember that anything entering it will end up in the nearest stream or river, untreated. Do not pour anything down a storm drain, especially not paint, oil, pesticides, or soap.
How Can Household Cleaners Affect the Environment?
Is there a connection between what you clean your windows with and your local stream? At first they may seem like distant topics, but the chemicals you clean your house with can actually make it into the river. This is because treated wastewater from wastewater treatment facilities actually drain to streams and rivers.
Of course, most pollutants are removed from the water by the wastewater treatment facilities before the water is returned to the rivers. However, some household cleaning chemicals, nutrients, and even pharmaceuticals persist and slip back into our waterways. These products enter the system through our home drains and toilets as families diligently clean their homes and go about their daily lives. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency names phosphorus, nitrogen, ammonia and chemicals grouped under the term “Volatile Organic Compounds” as the worst environmental hazards in household cleaners and a threat to stream health. These pollutants build up in the environment and can cause accelerated growth of some types of algae.
How can you clean your home without washing something dangerous down the drain, toilet, or sink? Good question: start by learning about the products you use and their alternatives.
Examples of Common Household Hazardous Waste
Cleaning supplies, such as window cleaners, drain cleaners, (any product containing bleach or ammonia)
Old pesticides and insecticides
Swimming pool chemicals
Weed killers not currently approved for use
Old fuels like kerosene or gas
Paint thinners and paint removers
Thermostats or thermometers containing mercury
Latex or oil based paints
What to Look For
Always carefully read labels. Anything that says “dangerous,” “warning,” or “hazardous” should be treated with the highest caution, so try to select products with none of these warning labels. However, anything using the word “caution” is safer, because it means that the product is less toxic or non-toxic. Read labels carefully, follow all safety precautions, and practice safe disposal.
Common Terms for Hazardous Household Products
Flammable: Can easily be set on fire or ignited.
Explosive: Can detonate or explode through exposure to heat, shock, or pressure.
Corrosive: Can burn the skin and eyes.
Toxic: Capable of causing injury or death if swallowed, inhaled, or absorbed through skin.
Radioactive: Can damage and destroy cells and chromosomal material.
Environmental Damage: Can contaminate rivers, lakes, and drinking water, and cause air pollution.
See more at: Oregon Metro’s Household Hazardous Products Page
Waste Prevention Tips
Buy only what you need, then use it up.
If you end up with products left over, share them with family, friends, and neighbors.
Dispose of these items safely — at a Household Hazardous Waste Drop-Off Event.
Look for Alternatives
Shopping wisely can protect your family as well as your stream. These less toxic products are in most grocery stores: Bon Ami cleanser, Murphy’s Oil Wood Soap, and Pure Citrus natural citrus cleaner.
Some “Earth Friendly” Product Lines:
Earth Friendly Products/ECOS
Mrs. Meyers Clean Day
If you’d like to make your own earth friendly cleaning products, recipes can be found through the links provided at the bottom of the page.
For more information on disposing of hazardous household waste in Jackson County visit the Jackson County Recycling Partnership.
How Do Outside Cleaners and Pool Chemicals Affect the Environment?
Even common car wash soaps and hot water may contain toxins or phosphates that create dangerous water quality problems for fish in your nearby creek or lake. Check out more about Stream Smart car washing.
The best products to use are safer for humans and for the environment. Look for alternatives to the hazardous products. When you do find yourself with hazardous products, dispose of them properly. To find out how and where to recycle or safely dispose of hazardous waste see the resource listed below.
One of the worst fish killers is chlorine from swimming pools and hot tubs. Chlorinated water is not allowed to enter the sanitary sewer, storm sewers, or surface waters. Do not drain directly to the creek or storm drain, as the chlorine will have a devastating effect on wildlife. If connected to a city sewer, contact your local sewer agency to determine acceptable amounts of chlorine for your waste water treatment plant. If you are on septic, do not pour pool chemicals down the drain as it will destroy the system. Don’t mix pool chemicals with garbage, as even a small amount can cause a deadly reaction. Common hazardous pool and hot tub chemicals include bromine, calcium chloride, chlorine, and copper-based algicides.
There are several new technologies and non-toxic alternatives that allow for chemical-free pools and hot tubs. Some alternatives to chlorine include ozone or ultraviolet light systems designed to kill bacteria and algae. Ask about these at your local pool store.
Check out these fact sheets from local sewer entities for draining your hot tub or pool safely:
Safe Cleaning Products for the Environment and your Family
Jackson County Recycling Partnership Earth Friendly Recipes
City of Ashland’s North Mountain Park:
Earth Friendly Recipes
Environmentally Friendly Cleaners
Metro Cleaning Guide
DEQ Household Hazardous Waste Information
Washington Toxics Coalition
EPAs Safe Cleaning Products for your Family
Environmental Working Group
Greening Your Purchase of Cleaning Products: A Guide for Federal Purchasers
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