Hazardous Materials in and around the Home
Hazardous materials can enter your home in many ways, from chemical spills to
groundwater contamination to automobile fluids to cleaning materials. In fact,
the average household contains between 3 and 10 gallons of hazardous material at
all times, presenting a threat to the health and indoor air quality within the
home if handled improperly. These can be in the form of cleaners, bleach,
and other household items loaded with potentially harmful chemicals. Keeping
your home free from these materials or properly controlling them is an important
part of keeping you and your family safe, whether it is in an emergency
situation or day-to-day living.
Hazardous materials come in three forms - solids (i.e. rat poison), liquids
and gases (such as natural gas or propane). Each form presents its own dangers
(consumption of solids and liquids v. inhalation of gases) and all should be
properly contained and stored according to manufacturer labels to minimize
There are several different types of hazardous materials based on how they act
and perform relative to their surroundings. The four most common types are as
Corrosive - Materials that chemically eat away substances such as metal or
Ignitable - Materials that are highly flammable and are a fire risk. This
includes matches, alcohols, and lighter fluids, among other substances.
Reactive - Materials that react spontaneously with the air, water, shock, or
heat including some bleaches and drain cleaners.
Toxic - Materials that are chemically threatening to human health if inhaled
or consumed. Many household cleaners are highly toxic if consumed.
For more information, consider taking the free short course from FEMA�s
Emergency Management Institute titled
Materials: A Guide for Citizens.
Installation (Getting It Done):
There are a variety of methods you can use to help make your home safer and
avoid the dangers of hazardous materials. The most important thing you can do
is to store all hazardous materials properly. Keep them in the original
container with the label for future reference. Follow all manufacturer
suggestions for storage temperatures. Be sure to store flammables away from the
home, any sources of flame or heat, and out of direct sunlight. Garages and
exterior storage sheds offer great places to safely keep flammable materials.
Keep an eye on your designated storage location for fumes or other signs that
the materials are not behaving properly. If you do detect fumes, wear a face
mask, remove the leaking material, and ventilate the storage area properly to
rid it of all dangerous toxins. Be sure to
of all hazardous materials properly.
to find areas near you that handle hazardous material disposal and visit
Earth911's page on
Recycling Hazardous Materials.
An easy way to minimize the risks associated with hazardous materials is to only
purchase what you need when you need it. Keeping large quantities of gas,
cleaning supplies, alcohols, etc. on hand only increases the chances of harmful
exposure. Look for safer alternative products whenever possible. For example,
instead of using chemical cleaners, use baking soda and a damp cloth to scrub
for the EPA's list of hazardous household product alternatives.
If there is a hazardous material spill, explosion, or other emergency in your
area, it is important to know how to protect your home and family from harm.
Ask your local fire department about emergency warning procedure and make sure
you and your family understand how to react to warnings. Your local emergency
planning committee can help you identify the proper plan for response and inform
you about where hazardous materials are stored or used in your area. Identify a
shelter location ahead of time. The shelter should be indoors in a room with
sealed windows and doors. For more information on creating an emergency plan,
During an emergency situation, stay as far away from the incident site as
possible. If driving or walking outside, seek permanent shelter and try to stay
upwind, upstream, and uphill from the site. Listen to directions on the news or
radio or from your local fire department to stay safe. If you are instructed to
stay in your home, close and lock all doors and windows and bring everyone into
one room. Be sure all doors and windows in your shelter room are locked and
place a towel under the door to help block fumes. Tape all the way around the
door and window frames to seal the room completely. Close all curtains and stay
away from the windows. When the fire department informs you that it is safe
again, open the doors and windows in your house to help ventilate it and remove
any lingering hazards. The most important thing to remember in an emergency
situation is to listen to authorities and keep your family inside and away from
Always report any contact with hazardous materials and seek immediate medical
attention. Consult the following links for more information on staying safe in
U.S. Fire Administration - Residential Hazardous Materials Safety
Jefferson County - Emergency Preparedness Guide
Videos on This Topic:
Residential Hazardous Material Safety
(1:35) - FEMA -
This short video offers a few tips for reducing hazardous materials and keeping
your home safe.
Household Hazardous Waste Collection Day (1:53)
- In Bergen County, New Jersey, local authorities have started collection days
for hazardous materials such as paint, antifreeze, thinners, and other harmful
materials. Find out what the collection day looks like and learn about some
products that can be taken to such collections in this video.
More Information on This Topic:
Guide for Handling Household Chemicals
EPA - Household Hazardous Waste
FEMA - Hazardous Materials