Are hazardous wastes in our homes sending the environment down the drain?
A Special Report by...
Michael J. Fitzpatrick

Michael J.

District Office
50 Route 111, Suite 202
Smithtown, NY 11787
(631) 724-2929

Albany Office
Room 544 LOB
Albany, NY 12248
(518) 455-5021


Dear Friend,

Where do hazardous wastes come from?

Most people, when asked this question, will think of smoke-belching factories and storage yards where rusting 55-gallon drums leak chemicals into the ground. But industry isnít the only producer of wastes that do serious harm to our environment.

Ordinary household products can also threaten the environment. For example, when household hazardous wastes like motor oil are disposed of carelessly, they contaminate soil and drinking water supplies. In the past, because of the publicís lack of awareness, these wastes were thrown out with ordinary household trash. When disposed of in landfills or burned in incinerators, these toxic products can contaminate our groundwater and air.

That attitude has been changing, however. State governments across the country are moving to eliminate the most harmful substances from the waste stream. Recent efforts to handle waste oil and car batteries are examples here in New York.

There is movement at the local level, too. As communities continue to face the challenges of managing solid waste, some are realizing that they might as well make the investment to deal with household hazardous wastes today rather than pay the price for the pollution problems theyíll cause tomorrow. However, more widespread efforts are needed if we are to keep the local environment from going down the drain.

For more information on household hazardous waste, contact the State Department of Environmental Conservationís (DEC) Household Hazardous Waste Hotline at 1-800-462-6553.

Michael J. Fitzpatrick
Member of Assembly

What Are Household Hazardous Wastes?

Household hazardous wastes are chemicals and compounds that pose the same environmental threat as industrial waste. Because of their chemical makeup, many can be harmful to people and animals as well. Hereís a short list of some of the most common types:

  • pesticides
  • cosmetics and medicines
  • household cleansers and bleach
  • paints and stains
  • motor oil and other auto fluids

Whatís Being Done About Them?

To combat the problem, I have supported funding from the Stateís Environmental Protection Fund (EPF) for costs related to local household hazardous waste collection and disposal programs. These programs provide ways for residents to dispose of household hazardous wastes separately from other trash, and serve to educate residents as to which household products are dangerous to the environment, and how they should be disposed of properly.

Many folks donít know which chemicals harm the environment and which donít. With this fund-ing, local governments are better able to inform their residents about what they can do, just as they are doing now through their school and advertising campaigns with recycling.

Many hazardous wastes cannot be landfilled or incinerated, because they hold the potential of contaminating groundwater, soil and air. The EPF helps support costs related to separating household hazardous wastes from the general waste stream and either disposed of, like other hazardous wastes, or recycled.

Much of these wastes can be disposed of safely and even reused if a person knows where itís supposed to go. Together, we can educate people, and provide them with safe disposal methods.

What You Can Do About Household Hazardous Wastes

Donít Forget Recycling

Some communities have already begun programs to remove their hazardous trash from the ordinary solid waste stream. Some are setting up hazardous waste pickup days, where residents put out hazardous trash on the roadside for pickup. Others are setting up temporary or permanent household hazardous waste drop-off sites.

Before resorting to dumping garbage, we should all see if it can be reused or recycled first.

Here are some guidelines for disposing of household hazardous wastes:

Before you buy...

  • buy only what you need to do the job
  • consider using tools instead of chemicals
  • ask salespeople for the least toxic products
  • read label carefully; be sure the product does what you want
  • use natural alternatives to chemicals
When disposing...

While many containers offer disposal guidelines, often they are not accurate. Always double check the instructions with a reputable source, such as your local Sanitation Department.

  • to prevent air or water pollution, refrain from burying or burning hazardous substances
  • to prevent water pollution, do not pour wastes down street drains or storm sewers, or dump along roadsides
  • never mix wastes, this may cause an explosion or create an even more hazardous product

Motor oil, antifreeze, brake fluids, batteries and photo chemicals are a few of the items that can be recycled. Check with retailers or your local Sanitation Department office in charge of recycling or handling household hazardous waste.

In the kitchen...  
• aluminum cleaners
• ammonia-based cleaners
• drain cleaners
• window cleaners
• oven cleaner (lye-based)
• floor care products
• furniture polish
• metal polish with solvent
In the bathroom...  
• alcohol-based lotions
• bathroom cleaners
• depilatories
• disinfectants
• hair permanent lotions and relaxers
• medicine
• toilet bowl cleaner
• tub and tile cleaners
• nail polish
• nail polish remover
In the garage...  
• automatic transmission fluid
• vehicle batteries and battery acid
• petroleum products (gas, kerosene, etc.)
• motor oil and oil filters
• brake fluid
• car wax with solvent
• antifreeze
• windshield washer solution
• auto body repair products
In the workshop...  
• cutting oil
• glue ó solvent-based
• paint ó oil-based
     auto or model
• paint stripper
• lye-based paint stripper
• primer
• varnish
• wood preservative
• paint brush cleaner with TSP
• paint brush cleaner with solvent
• paint thinner and turpentine
• batteries ó alkaline/carbon-zinc
      button-, coin-shaped
      rechargeable (NiCd/NiMH)
In the garden...  
• poisons (insecticide, herbicide, etc.)
• fertilizer

You can safely pour small amounts of these products down the drain using plenty of water. But you may not be able to dump some products down the drain if you have a septic tank. Some chemicals will damage septic tanks and contaminate groundwater. Read the labels first.

Save these products for collection programs. Empty containers are not considered hazardous wastes. Call your town or county for details on how they should be properly managed.

*These types of batteries are often accepted for recycling at stores that sell them.

Unless you can recycle them in a local program, dispose of these products in your household waste ódonít pour them down the drain. Make sure youíve contained or dried the product properly before you put it out with the trash or take it to a landfill.

These products can be recycled in some communities.

To avoid paying a $5 fee when purchasing a new vehicle battery, surrender your used battery to the retailer. Regardless of whether or not you purchase a battery from them, retailers must accept used vehicle batteries (up to two per month) from any individual at no charge. Used motor oil must be accepted at vehicle service and retail establishments that sell motor oil. Used oil filters may be accepted at these establishments at no charge or for a small fee.

NOTE: Use non-toxic alternatives whenever possible. If you canít use all of a product, pass it on to someone who can. Items such as artistís paints, fiberglass epoxy, lighter fluid, mercury batteries, moth balls and swimming pool acid are all considered hazardous and should be taken to a licensed hazardous waste contractor or local household hazardous waste collection program.