With all the talk swirling around us about the changing environment; global warming, rising tides, melting ice-bergs and ozone holes, you may think there is nothing you can do to help keep your environment safe. But believe it or not, you can help one area of your environment immediately. Your water supply.


You can start by avoid using hazardous household products--Most proprietary household chemicals are safe to use and are environmentally friendly when used according to the directions on the package. However, some have a harmful cumulative effect on the environment when they are over-used or incorrectly disposed of. Buy only those environmentally hazardous products you really need, and buy them in quantities you will be able to completely use up so that you will not have to worry about disposing of the leftovers later.

Don't misuse your household's sewage system. If you do not want toxic chemicals in household products harming the environment and even coming back to you in your water or your food, dispose of them properly.

  • Always try to use completely, or to recycle to other people, all of the contents of such products as oven cleaners, toilet bowl cleaners, sink drain cleaners, bleaches, rust removers, and most other acidic and alkali products. This also includes paints, solvents, carpet and furniture cleaners, polishes, and glues.
  • Such items as disposable diapers, dental floss, plastic tampon holders, and hair can create many problems in the sewage treatment plant; they should all be tossed into the wastebasket, not the toilet.
  • Your local fire department will normally accept unwanted leftovers of barbecue starter fluids, lighter fluids, gasoline, and furnace oils. Where possible, choose latex (water-based) paint instead of oil-based paint. Use it up instead of storing or dumping it.

Avoid the use of pesticides and hazardous materials in your garden and yard--Some pesticides and hazardous materials tend to accumulate in the groundwater and food chain and are toxic to various forms of life, particularly when they are not used according to the directions specified on the package or when the empty containers are disposed of without proper precautions. If over used or applied at inappropriate times some of these chemicals may also be lost in storm water runoff.

  • Reduce or avoid the use of pesticides to control household or garden pests by employing more environmentally responsible methods such as
    • pulling weeds by hand;
    • pulling off and disposing of infested leaves;
    • picking off larvae;
    • using an insecticide soap solution to dislodge or suffocate insects, or dislodging them using stream of water from a garden hose;
    • rotating garden crops each year to prevent depletion of soil nutrients and to control soil-borne diseases;
    • cultivating your garden. Regular hoeing will control weeds and keep plants healthy and more resistant to insects.
  • Use natural fertilizers such as bonemeal or compost.
  • Spread sand rather than salt on your sidewalks and driveways to get traction on winter ice.

Don't dump hazardous products into storm drains--Storm drains empty into underground storm sewer systems, discharging directly into nearby lakes and streams, which are important habitats for fish and wildlife. Unlike domestic wastes collected by sanitary sewers, the contents of storm sewers are generally not treated at sewage treatment plants prior to their discharge into a stream or lake. Therefore dispose of oils, detergents, paints, solvents, and other products at local recycling or disposal facilities. Some communities organize special days for collecting these wastes or have their own hazardous-waste collection sites. Contact your health and environment officers or local waste disposal company for times and place. If your community doesn't have either, promote the idea.

Finally, don't sit back and just let things happen--An informed and committed public can become a powerful constituency in support of environmentally concerned political leaders, and even by themselves can provide a catalyst for environmental issues. Believe it, you can make a difference! Follow some of these simple steps.

  • Become informed.
  • Trust in the ability of the individual to take action on environmental issues, and work together with other individuals, experts, and politicians.
  • Be willing to change your attitudes, behaviors, and expectations.
  • Join and support local and national groups that work to solve environmental problems on institutional, national, and international levels. There are hundreds of such groups across the U.S.
  • Urge and support federal, state, and municipal action on environmental issues.
  • Do not use products that are harmful to the environment. Urge stores to abandon wasteful packaging and to use biodegradable materials.
  • Exercise your rights as a citizen: request information, participate in public hearings, serve on advisory committees, and address review boards. Under federal legislation, these options are available within the terms of the Clean Water Act and other environmental statutes.
  • When voting in municipal, state, and federal elections, make your choices based on the environmental views, positions, and practices of the candidates.
  • Educate your children and your friends. Environmental problems cannot be solved in a single generation; your children and their children will have to carry on the work.

Reading next