Take precautions if using household toxic products


June 26, 1991|By Susan McGrath | Susan McGrath,Los Angeles Times Syndicate

So your shelves are lined with products that say DANGER! CAUTION! WARNING! and other little hints like that, but you paid for them, by gum, and you are going to use them.

Or maybe you bought that one can of incredibly toxic paint stripper because you can't find anything else to do the job. Or you have to have this tube of killer glue because it's just too embarrassing to go around with bent paper clips in your eyeglasses.

Fine. For you Must Haves, here are some tips about how to use toxic household products with minimum impact on your health and on the health of those around you.

* Buy the smallest amount needed for the job. You don't want any extra lying around the house, and you may be legally required to dispose of leftovers as household hazardous waste.

* If a label recommends "adequate ventilation," or says "fumes may be harmful," take serious precautions to avoid breathing the stuff. Basements and bathrooms are almost impossible to ventilate adequately. When working indoors, open two windows and put a fan in one of them. Stand where you are breathing fresh air from outside.

Outside, work with the product downwind from your nose. If the product is very toxic, as are certain paint thinners and oven cleaners, and you can smell it, you probably don't have adequate ventilation. You may have to rent a respirator from a safety supply store.

* Avoid getting solvents and other toxic materials on your skin. This means gloves. Ordinary latex gloves are OK for some products, but solvents will dissolve them. Stop by a safety supply store for gloves appropriate to the job.

* Do not use toxic products during pregnancy.

* Do not wear soft contact lenses while using solvents.

* Never pour toxic products into secondary containers without labeling them carefully. Whenever possible, keep them in their original containers.

* Don't store solvents, such as thinners and strippers, in plastic containers. The solvent can eat right through the plastic.

* Wash your hands carefully and change your clothes after working with toxic compounds.

* If you have old cans of pesticide, herbicide or wood preservative in your basement, don't use the stuff without doing a little research. Many households still contain products that have been banned or restricted in recent years. Here are some examples: creosote, penta, DDT, 2,4,5-T, chlordane and silvex. If you didn't buy your product within the last two years, call a county cooperative extension agent to find out if the product is still legal, and how to dispose of it properly if you can no longer use it.

* If you have questions about safe use or disposal of toxic household products, call your local public health department.

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