Solvents Poured Down the Household Drain May Cause Pollution

While household chemical products are generally safe for the uses they are designed for, some may become harmful to the environment as they accumulate in non-target areas. For this reason you should not put these products down a drain.


When you pour hazardous household products down the sink or flush them down the toilet the hazardous materials enter either a septic system or a municipal sewer system. If you have a septic system, wastewater from your house goes into a tank buried underground. The solids settle out and partially decompose. The remaining wastewater then goes into a drain field where the natural processes ongoing in the soil help to further break down the wastewater. Toxic materials in that wastewater can kill the helpful bacteria and the system will not operate properly. Some toxic materials move through the soil untreated or unchanged. When this happens ground water or surface waters may become contaminated. For example, many paint removers and aerosol paint products contain the chemical methylene chloride which does not dissolve easily in water.

This chemical can pass directly through a septic system without breaking down at all. Chlorine bleach can also pass through a septic system without breaking down. Also the chlorine can react with organic matter to form new toxic chemicals. If your home is hooked to a municipal sewage system, your wastewater is piped to a central sewage plant. After treatment, it is discharged into area like rivers, lakes and streams. Most municipal systems rely on bacteria or other organisms to decompose the waste. Some hazardous household waste can pass through the system unchanged and thus pollute the water downstream. In addition, hazardous household wastes poured down the drain may corrode the plumbing or collect in the trap and release fumes through the drains.

Most sewage treatment facilities are not capable of removing such toxic substances. You should also be aware that in most cases, anything put into the storm sewer system goes directly to the receiving lake or river completely untreated. So, before you dump anything down a drain or into a storm sewer, remember that you or others may be drinking it somedays. For those substances that you have at home now and want to get rid of, such as old paint, find out whether there is a hazardous waste disposal site in your community and take them there. Contact your local environmental officials or extension office for assistance. Make sure the containers are labeled to indicate the contents.

Some hazardous household wastes can be flushed down the drain as long as they are followed by plenty of water. This recommendation applies if a hazardous household waste will be neutralized by water or if the municipal or sanitary sewage system is able to remove the toxins or render them harmless.

This method is not recommended for people who have septic systems. Heavy concentrations of certain chemicals in a septic tank can destroy the microorganisms that make the system work properly. Call your local waste-water treatment plant before you flush hazardous household waste down the drain to be sure that the water can be neutralized by their system.

There are some recommendations to follow when disposing household chemicals. * There should be adequate ventilation in the area where you are flushing the waste. * Don't dispose of chemical wastes in the food preparation area. * Never mix chemicals together while pouring or when they are in the toilet or sink. * Pour slowly and carefully to avoid splashing. Wear gloves and goggles to protect eyes and hands. * Flush wastes using a large volume of water. * Rinse the empty container with water before placing it in the trash.

Save for a collection day. A community waste collection day is one way to manage hazardous household waste and keep it out of the landfill. The collection days are usually sponsored by a local government agency or a private organization. Residents are notified of the date, the drop-off location and the type of materials the program will accept. The collected wastes are recycled, treated or disposed of by a professional handler. If your city or county has such a collection day, use it. It is a good way to dispose of hazardous household wastes, such as automotive paint, brake fluid, dry cleaning fluid, engine degreaser, flea powder, epoxies and adhesives, photographic chemicals, paint supplies and thinners, solvent-based cleaners and polishes, mothballs, wood preservatives, gasoline, pesticides, swimming pool chemicals, lacquer and lacquer thinner, car batteries, kerosene, mercury batteries and smoke detectors. If there is not a collection program in your area, use the recommended disposal methods described earlier. Find someone who might use or recycle your waste. In the meantime, store these products safely! It would be difficult to eliminate all the hazardous products from our lives.

It's also wise to compare labels and contents when buying. If a less toxic product will work just as well, buy it. * Buying only what you need. If there is no waste, you don't have to store it or throw it away. * Using products according to label directions. * Using non-toxic alternatives. For example, clear a drain with a metal snake instead of a chemical drain opener. * Never mix products. Dangerous reactions can occur. Be a good citizen. Use and dispose of hazardous household waste responsibly. Call your County Extension Home Economics Agent or the local waste management agency, water treatment plant or landfill if you have questions. Make sure the disposal method you use is a safe one so that the hazardous waste does not contaminate your drinking water.

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