Residential hazardous materials (hazmat) safety is important in preventing fires in and around your home. Hazmat safety involves the proper handling and storage of combustibles and flammable liquids such as gasoline, kerosene, propane, oil, aerosols, certain household cleaning products, and painting supplies.
What Are Household Hazardous Materials?
Americans have about half a million different products containing chemicals available for use in our homes. The average household contains between 3 and 10 gallons of materials classified as hazardous. Most people use chemicals safely everyday without incident, but as the number of chemical products increases, the rates of improper use and injury also increase.
When most people think of "hazardous materials," they picture trucks full of chemicals, factories, or dumps oozing slime. But, every home can be a warehouse of hazardous materials. Cleansers, bleach, oil, paints, thinners, batteries, medicines, and pesticides are common household items that are "hazardous."
Chemicals come in three different forms: solids, liquids, and gases. Chemicals in the home are found in all three forms.
• Solids-typically keep their own shape. Solids can be as large chunks, crystals, or powder. Scented carpet powders and rat poison are examples of solids found in the home.
• Liquids-take on the shape of the container and when released or spilled will run everywhere. Bleach, antifreeze, and gasoline are examples of liquids found around the home.
• Gases-spread out to fill any container they occupy. Gases are all around us and constantly moving. Natural gas and propane are examples of gases used in the home.
Hazardous Materials Classifications
There are four major classifications of hazardous materials:
•Corrosive materials are capable of dissolving or wearing away gradually. A few common corrosives include-metal cleaners, drain cleaners, spot rust removers, and oven cleaners.
•Ignitable materials pose a fire hazard during routine handling, Items in the home that are ignitable include gasoline (or gas/oil mixture), kerosene, diesel fuel, propane tanks, hone heating oil, lighter fluid, ammunition, matches, and any items containing alcohol.
•Reactive materials are those that during routine use tend to react spontaneously with air or water. They are unstable to shock or heat and can generate toxic gases or explode.
• Toxic materials are usually identified with a skull and crossbones. Toxic materials release poisons in sufficient enough quantities to pose a risk to humans.
How Can I Make My Home Safe?
All of us have many products in our homes and garages that may be hazardous if used, stored or disposed of improperly. They may pose serious fire, health, or environmental hazards. If they are used, stored, and disposed of properly, however, they can be relatively safe.
Familiarize yourself with each product, its location, and purpose. More products are hazardous than you may think. Here are a few of the common ones:
• Automotive fluids
• Household cleaners
• Laundry products
• Health and beauty products
• Lawn and garden products
• Barbecue Products
• Home maintenance products
Home Hazardous Materials Storage
Proper storage and disposal of hazardous materials at home is extremely important. Due to increased public awareness of the dangers of hazardous materials, many communities in the United States now have designated household hazardous waste collection days or permanent collection facilities. Read the product's label to see if specific storage and disposal instructions are listed. If not, or if you are unsure about the proper storage or disposal of a product, contact the manufacturer or call your local government office.
• To reduce the amount of hazardous materials in storage, buy only the amount that you need for the job at hand.
• Store hazardous materials in their original containers. If the label is peeling off, reattach it with transparent tape.
• Use proper storage containers for flammable and combustibles, buy products with safety closures whenever possible.
• Store flammable products such as gasoline, kerosene, propane gas, and paint thinner in containers away from the house.
• Never store flammable in direct sunlight or near an open flame.
• Because of flammability, store liquid pesticides containing a petroleum-based carrier or solvent in a garage in a locked cabinet.
• Inspect storage areas regularly and be on the lookout for leaky containers , poor ventilation, and the smell of fumes.
• Store hazardous materials out of the reach of children and pets.
• Aerosol containers are pressurized products that sometimes contain flammable or poisonous chemicals. If you dispose of these pressurized containers in the trash, they can be punctured and explode. The can also start a fire. A can is empty and safe for disposal if you no longer hear air being released from the container.
• If a household cleaner contains a solvent, do not dump it down the drain or put in the trash. It contains solvents if the label includes the word flammable, combustible, caution, warning, and danger or contains petroleum distillates or aromatic hydrocarbons.
• Do not store chemicals near food.
Tips to Avoid a Hazmat Emergency During a Natural Disaster
Recovery costs following a disaster are bad enough without adding clean up from contamination of hazardous materials in your home. Follow these tips to help prevent hazardous materials in and around your home from posing an added danger during a natural disaster.
• Know how to shut off the gas supply in case of an emergency such as an earthquake or tornado.
• Chain propane cylinders securely to prevent them from floating away during a flood situation.
• Knowing how to shut off the gas outside at the meter can save your life during an emergency. Once you shut off the gas only the gas company should turn it back on.
• A fuel tank should be secured to a cement slab to prevent if from tipping over or floating away during a flood. Elevate your tank to prevent damage to the valves if you are prone to frequent flooding.
• Install flexible gas lines from cylinders or tanks to all gas and fuel appliances in your home.
• Make sure free standing sheds, garages, and small barns where hazardous materials are stored are tied down securely to the ground. Reinforce double entry on garage doors.
• Guardrails and safety locks on shelves and cabinets will help prevent containers from tipping over and from falling out onto you.
• Pay special attention to chemical products when moving them from place to place. The same rules apply for proper transportation as they do for storage.
Home Oxygen Cylinders
Home oxygen cylinders and concentrators pose a couple of hazards. While oxygen is not flammable, it is an oxidizer. An oxidizer is a chemical that makes things burn more rapidly. Oxygen can cause materials that would not burn in normal air to become flammable. You should stay away from all sources of open flame while using oxygen. This includes all gas appliances, candles, and cigarettes. When introduced to oxygen, flames can burn violently.
• Secure oxygen cylinders at all times to prevent tipping.
• Avoid dragging and rolling cylinders, even for short distances. Oxygen cylinders are under high pressure . If the valve on the top of the cylinder is broken, it can take off like a rocket, hurting you or damaging you home.
• Place oxygen cylinders and concentrators in areas away from heat sources, including those without open flames such as electric heaters.
• Avoid using grease or oil of any type on the fittings of oxygen cylinders or concentrators.
• Avoid using all based health products while using oxygen, including petroleum jelly and heat rubs. These products easily catch fire if you come in contact with an ignition source.