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Household Chemical Emergencies

Nearly every household uses products containing hazardous materials.   Although the risk of a chemical accident is slight, knowing how to handle these products and how to react during an emergency can reduce the risk of injury.

How to prepare for household chemical emergencies

  1. Contact the City of Westminster Environmental Services Division at 303-430-2400 ext., 2189 for information about potentially dangerous household products and their antidotes.  Ask about the advisability of maintaining antidotes in your home for: cleaners and germicides, deodorizers, detergents, drain and bowl cleaners, gases, home medications, laundry bleaches, liquid fuels, paint removers and thinners.
  2. Follow instructions on the product label for proper disposal of chemicals.  Proper disposal will ensure environmental and public health as well as household well being.  If you have additional questions on chemical disposal, call your local environmental or recycling agency.
    • Small amounts of the following products can be safely poured down the drain with plenty of water: bathroom and glass cleaner, bleach, drain cleaner, household disinfectant, laundry and dishwashing detergent, rubbing alcohol, rug and upholstery cleaner, and toilet bowl cleaner. 
    • Small amounts of the following products should be disposed by wrapping the container in newspaper and plastic and placing it in the trash: brake fluid, car wax or polish, dish and laundry soap, fertilizer, furniture and floor polish, insect repellent, nail polish, oven cleaner, paint thinners and strippers, pesticides, powder cleansers, water-based paint, wood preservatives.
    • Dispose of the following products at a recycling center or a collection site: kerosene, motor or fuel oil, car battery or battery acid, diesel fuel, transmission fluid, large amounts of paint, thinner or stripper, power steering fluid, turpentine, gun cleaning solvents, and tires.
    • Empty spray cans completely before placing in the trash.  Do not place spray cans into a burning barrel, incinerator, or trash compactor because they may explode.
    • Flush outdated and unused medicines down the toilet and place the empty container in the trash.  Out-dated medicines can cause ill effects.  Flushing them will eliminate the risk of people or animals picking them out of the trash. 
  3. Read directions before using a new chemical product and be sure to store household chemicals according to the instructions on the label. 
  4. Store chemicals in a safe, secure location, preferably up high and always out of the reach of children.
  5. Avoid mixing household chemical products.  Deadly toxic fumes can result from the mixture of chemicals such as chlorine bleach and ammonia. 
  6. Never smoke while using household chemicals.  Avoid using hair spray, cleaning solutions, paint products, or pesticides near an open flame, pilot light, lighted candle, fireplace, wood burning stove, etc.  Although you may not be able to see or smell them, vapor particles in the air could catch fire or explode.
  7. If you spill a chemical, clean it up immediately with rags.  Be careful to protect your eyes and skin (wear gloves and eye protection).  Allow the fumes in the rags to evaporate outdoors, then dispose of the rags by wrapping them in a newspaper and placing them in a sealed plastic bag in your trash can.
  8. Buy only as much of a chemical as you think you will use.  If you have product left over, try to give it to someone who will use it.  Storing hazardous chemicals increases risk of chemical emergencies.
  9. Keep an A-B-C-rated fire extinguisher in the home and car, and get training from your local fire department on how to use it.
  10. Learn to detect hazardous materials.  Many hazardous materials do not have a taste or an odor, and some can be detected because they cause physical reactions such as watering eyes or nausea.  Other hazardous materials exist beneath the ground and can be recognized by an oil or foam-like appearance.
  11. Learn to recognize the symptoms of toxic poisoning:
    • Difficulty breathing
    • Irritation of the eyes, skin, throat or respiratory tract
    • Changes in skin color
    • Headache or blurred vision
    • Dizziness
    • Clumsiness or lack of coordination
    • Cramps or diarrhea

What to do during a household chemical emergency

  1. If your child should eat or drink a non-food substance, find any containers immediately and take them to the phone.  Medical professionals may need specific information from the container to give you the best emergency advice.
  2. Call the poison control center, emergency medical services (EMS), 911, hospital emergency room, county health department, fire department or your local pharmacy.  They will give you emergency advice while you wait for professional help.  You should have such numbers on hand for easy access and use.
  3. Follow the emergency operator or dispatcher's instructions carefully.  The first aid advice found on containers may not be appropriate.  Do not give anything by mouth until medical professionals have advised you.
  4. Take immediate action if the chemical gets into the eyes.  Delaying first aid can greatly increase the likelihood of injury.  Flush the eye with clear, water for a minimum of 15 minutes, unless authorities instruct you not to use water on the particular chemical involved. Continue the cleansing process even if the victim indicates he or she is no longer feeling any pain, and then seek medical attention.
  5. Get out of the residence immediately if there is danger of a fire or explosion.  Do not waste time collecting items or calling the fire department when you are in danger.
  6. If there is a fire or explosion, call the fire department from outside (a cellular phone or a neighbor's phone) once you are safely away from danger.
  7. Stay upwind and away from the residence to avoid breathing toxic fumes.
  8. Wash hands, arms, or other exposed body parts that may have been exposed to the chemical.  Chemicals may continue to irritate the skin until they are washed off.
  9. Discard clothing that may have been contaminated.  Some chemicals may not wash out completely.  Discarding clothes will prevent potential future exposure.
  10. Administer first aid treatment to victims of chemical burns.
    • Call 911 for emergency help.
    • Remove clothing and jewelry from around the injury.
    • Pour clean, cool water over the burn for 15 to 30 minutes.
    • Loosely cover the burn with a sterile or clean dressing.  Be sure that the dressing will not stick to the burn.
    • Refer victim to a medical professional for further treatment.

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